The Nguyen family
A five-day Baja, Mexico, cruise
Tien Van Nguyen and his wife, Thuy Thanh, needed a break. Tailors since moving from Vietnam to southern California three decades ago, the couple raised 10 children and are now spending their "retirement" babysitting the seven grandchildren—a hat trick involving afternoon pickups at three Orange County schools. On Saturdays the extended family—all 39 of them—descend on the Nguyen’s sprawling ranch house in Westminister for Vietnamese noodle soup and shrimp over rice or, when exhaustion finally kicks in, pizza delivered to their door.
When the Nguyens’ daughter, Van, took a cruise with her husband and two children last year, she thought that an open-seas voyage might be just the vacation for her parents. Emphasis on might: the last time the family had all been on a vessel was in 1975, when they were part of the first wave of post–Vietnam War "boat people" to arrive in the States. Tien had been seasick the whole way. "We told my dad how big the cruise ship was, how different it was from the small boat we came over on," says Van, who booked a five-day Baja sail from Los Angeles to Ensenada on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas for 18 members of the clan. "And we said he could take a pill for motion sickness."
Any worries about Tien vanished the minute he and Thuy stepped into the ship’s neon-lit casino. Although they’d never done much gambling, the pair spent every possible minute at the slots, where they lost so much money (several hundred dollars’ worth of tokens, in Tien’s case) that Thuy says, "They should give us a discount next time." When the casino was shuttered, the high rollers joined their children for walks on deck and poolside lounging. The younger grandchildren examined sea fossils in the kids’ program, while the older ones tried out the ship’s climbing wall and karaoke at the teen club.
The family convened for meals at the buffet in a café with views of the sea. One night they sat around two long tables in the formal dining room, feasting on escargot, grilled prawns, and beef tenderloin—a high point for everyone, but especially Thuy. "The man and the woman, they came and served us," she said reverently. "Next year, I come with my whole family."
Royal Caribbean International
866/562-7625; royalcaribbean.com; Monarch of the Seas five-day Baja sail out of Los Angeles, $269 per person, including meals and onboard activities; inquire about special packages. If your group is large, a travel agent can be indispensable in handling bookings, negotiating discounts, and coordinating flights. Carol Vaugn of World Voyager Vacations (877/836-1949; worldvoyager vacations.com) assisted the Nguyens.