Family celebrates a milestone birthday at sea


By Ellen L. Weingart

With my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday approaching, it didn’t take our family long to decide that a seven-day Caribbean cruise would be the ideal way to celebrate this remarkable lady.

We chose to sail aboard Holland America Line’s Westerdam from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with port stops in Grand Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay.

Ruth is no typical 90-year-old, assuming such a person exists. She lives independently in her own apartment in New York, exercises daily, takes advantage of the city’s museums, regularly attends the theater, is up on all the latest books and movies and keeps in touch with family and myriad friends via e-mail. We wanted to make sure she had a birthday celebration that matched her amazing vitality and zest for life.

Cruises provide activities for every age and interest so with our group of eight including Ruth’s three baby-boomer children, their spouses and her 17-year-old granddaughter, we were sure we’d all have a wonderful time. We were not disappointed.

From the time she boarded, there was no doubt that Ruth’s birthday would be celebrated in style. A happy birthday sign and a sparkly ribbon decorated her cabin door and her cabin was festooned with birthday balloons. Passengers celebrating a special event can also extend the festivities with flowers, wine, photos and other gifts purchased on board.

But the highlight for us was the birthday dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America’s fine-dining option serving elegant beef and seafood dishes at a reasonable upcharge. We made reservations for Ruth’s birthday soon after booking the cruise, notifying the restaurant of the milestone we would be celebrating and arranging for a birthday cake and champagne to mark the occasion.

From the moment we walked in, it was clear that Ruth was the star of the evening. She was warmly welcomed by the maitre d’ and as soon as Ruth found out he was from Germany, they embarked on a lively discussion of the various places she visited on her trips to Germany. Both the service and food were impeccable, topped off by a delicious birthday cake.

The cruise provided us with many opportunities to be together, something that has happened all too rarely with our family scattered geographically. The Westerdam is classified as “mid-sized” (1,900 passengers) and was small enough that we would run into one another at the Lido Deck cafeteria at breakfast and lunch. Similarly, we’d see each other at the pool or in one of the ship’s beautiful lounges.

The family always met for dinner, frequently going on together to take in the evening’s entertainment, including a family-appropriate ventriloquist, a comic and two production shows with computer-generated scenery. Or we would gather in one of the various lounges to listen to music ranging from rock to classical. And we would meet for the daily trivia competition where our wide range of age and accumulated knowledge made us competitive — although we never won.

But we also had ample opportunity to pursue our individual interests.

The gym rats among us, primarily 90-year-old Ruth and one of my sisters-in-law and her spouse, spent early mornings on the treadmill, watching the sea pass in front of the gym’s large, ocean-facing windows.

My other sister-in-law and her daughter took advantage of the onboard spa for some mother and daughter pampering.

Those of us on board with a culinary bent, could indulge ourselves with the almost daily live cooking show at the Culinary Arts Center featuring one of the Westerdam’s top chefs and some tasty samples.

And my husband and I, mindful that the New England winter was only just getting started, spent time around the pools and in the hot tubs.

For younger families, Holland America also provides supervised activities for children, including Club Hal for children ages 3 to 12, and The Loft, an “adult-free” area where teens 13 to 17 can enjoy music, games, movies or just hang out. Nighttime baby-sitting is also available.

Port stops also offered activities for every age group and interest, ranging from kayaking, snorkeling, biking and horseback riding, to island tours, lolling on the beach and of course, shopping.

In St. Martin, my husband and I elected to take an art tour, visiting various artist studios and enjoying the marvelous scenery. Other family members enjoyed the port area shopping. In Grand Turks, we stepped off the ship to discover a whole history of the United States space program that we had little previous knowledge of. And there were stops where we just elected to stay on board and enjoy the ship.

Upon our return to Ft. Lauderdale, the celebration continued with Ruth’s two grandsons and their families, including her three little great-granddaughters, joining the festivities.

If you go …

For information or reservations, go to or call 877-932-4259. Guests planning a special celebration aboard Holland America should contact Ship Services at 800-541-1576.