Most grown women don’t get to celebrate their father’s 18th birthday, but as the daughter of a leap year baby, I’d been looking forward to sharing the day with Dad. Yes, he was actually turning 72, and though there had been talking of throwing a big party at home the summer before the pandemic hit when we spotted a Carnival Leap Day Babies sale, the decision was made. Forget all of that party preparation and cleaning-up nonsense, the family was running away for a long weekend.
At four nights, our cruise on Carnival Spirit was in that fun-size sweet spot that’s so popular for celebratory trips and first-timers who’d like a taste of cruise life before committing to a longer trip. Many short trips ”cruise to nowhere”, spending a few days at sea before coming back to the same place they left, but we sailed from Melbourne to Adelaide and back.
For half of our family’s group, it was their first time on any sized ship, and for all of us, it was the first time we’d set sail on a multi-generational family holiday.
Waterslide hours and kid-friendly versus adults-only comedy shows are on my radar for the first time, and though I could swing around the Dancin’ nightclub drinking cocktails out of a disco ball novelty cup, I’m more interested in family time and enjoying dinner and a show before heading to bed.
With ages ranging from my nine-year-old nephew up to my 72-year-old/18th birthday-celebrating father, the six of us go our own ways at times before coming back together for meals and to swap tales of what we’ve been up to since our last debrief. While our parents explore Adelaide, my brother and I join a shore excursion to the Barossa, where we introduce my nephew to the reservoir’s Whispering Wall before we’re introduced to some new drops at a wine-tasting at Seppeltsfield Estate.
At dinner, when waiters walk through the restaurant singing “Happy birthday to you…” we all sit a little straighter like meerkats and look to our birthday person before the cake sails right on past us to another party in the corner. Leap-year babies may be relatively rare in real life, but thanks to the sale, our ship has 32 “leapsters”, from an eight-year-old girl celebrating her second real birthday to a gentleman marking his 19th big day.
I’d cottoned on that the girls in tiaras next to us were celebrating a birthday. And the table next to them. But it isn’t until the many cakes come out that I realize just how many of us are sharing our celebrations. In 2019, our last big year of cruising, 6445 birthdays were celebrated on Carnival ships sailing from Australia. That’s a whole lot of avoiding washing up at sea.
Thanks to two sea days, there’s plenty of time to explore the ship, and while I take advantage of the Carnival Hub app to check what’s on and create a favorites list, my aunt goes for the old-school daily print-outs to plan her day.
My nephew joins the other children and adults braver than me on Green Thunder, slipping down the steepest waterslide at sea, zipping out over the side of the ship before coming back into the ride’s splash zone. Meanwhile, I quickly discover that the clamshell lounges in the adults-only Serenity retreat are one of the best places to enjoy a cocktail.
On the final night, there’s time for one last show for the whole family. In the Pharaoh’s Palace Lounge, the illusionist Miss Houdini disappears and reappears and puts her assistants into boxes which she then folds up into next to nothing. As I watch her push flaming skewers and metal blades through boxes containing disappearing assistants, I can see the same baffled but excited looks on the faces of all ages around me.
I have absolutely no idea how she does it. As for my nine-year-old nephew? He knows. “It was magic.”
The writer was a guest of Carnival Cruise Line. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com