If you ask my 10-year-old son Ethan what he liked best about our Grand Canyon Expeditions river rafting vacation last summer, his reply is “the friends I made.” While most adults would expect the answer to be “the awesome Grand Canyon” or the “cool river rapids,” sometimes children can put their finger on the true essence of a situation better than adults.
This was true in our case, since the camaraderie we experienced throughout our entire Grand Canyon Expedition was a critical, core part of our family vacation. Ethan felt it, embraced it, enjoyed it, and will never forget it. Neither will I!
Mind you, there was not just one type of camaraderie at play throughout our trip. There were four different social dynamics that all were an integral part of our memorable Grand Canyon Expeditions trip.
Parent and Child/Teen
Regrettably, like many single parents, I do not have as much time to spend with my son as I would like when I’m home. However, travel is
often a way for us to bond.
On a GCEX family vacation, you and your kids are on the same raft by day and sleep in the same campsite by night. Bonding inevitably happens. I loved that I had time each night before and after dinner to hang out with Ethan and his new friends and play cards. I feel that the lack of technology got us back to basics which included pure, simple FUN!
I feel that Ethan was surprised and happy to see me hanging out and laughing with him and his peers. This in itself is worth its weight in gold – let alone the spectacular scenery which was the backdrop for our mutual admiration.
Child and Teens
I was a little concerned on the first day of our seven-night expedition that Ethan was the only child on the trip. I thought perhaps that the many teens on the trip would ignore Ethan since he was a lot younger.
Actually, quite the opposite was true. Instead, Ethan was like the fun mascot whom everyone rallied around. When we went over big rapids, the teenage boys sat around Ethan making sure he was well protected from the spraying water. The young adults also met Ethan at his level by often happily talking about
SpongeBob episodes or playing Harry Potter trivia.
The result? An amazing closeness between Ethan and the teens on our GCEX family vacation.
Staff and Adults
With four staff members to assist and guide our group of 29 guests, there was a propensity for us to get to know our trip guides. Some guests especially sought out friendship with the knowledgeable staff members: Art, Beav, Randy and Lacey.
For example, one of the male adult guests was an early riser so he was always up chatting with Randy at the camp kitchen as Randy made coffee at 5:30 a.m. daily. Another male adult in our group was fascinated by the topography and history of each mile marker of the Grand Canyon. So he became friendly with Beav and Art – the helmsmen of our two rafts – and they always graciously engaged in knowledgeable Canyon conversation. One of the females in our group was traveling solo from Ireland, so she enjoyed chatting with Lacey, the female staff member in our group.
I found it comforting – as a divorced parent traveling with a child and teenager – to have Art, Randy, Beav and Lacey’s guidance and opinions. Conversely, when I travel with my kids to cities and stay in hotels, there are no other adults with whom to confer. This can be a very isolating feeling. But on GCEX, I relished the “one big happy family” atmosphere that filtered from the top (the staff) down.
Children/Teens and Staff
The social dynamic I was most pleasantly surprised by was between children/teens and the GCEX staff. The pervasive warmth between youngsters and the staff alike was truly genuine.
At first it was in a more formal way. The camaraderie originally occurred when Art asked the teens and Ethan in our group to play bocce ball after dinner one night. This proved to be a big hit that was replicated on other nights too.
Then Art asked two younger teen girls if they’d like to help him making desserts on a number of occasions. The girls were more than happy to help in this unique experience: without a formal oven, Art and the girls made amazing desserts in a Dutch oven atop the gas stove.
I’ve cruised on dozens of mega cruise ships which often carry upwards of 4,000 people. You’d think with that vast array of folks that we’d make friends on every cruise. However, that has been more the exception than the rule. Conversely, with only 20+ folks to mingle with on a GCEX trip, you’d think that forming social bonds would be slim pickings. However, I was so pleasantly surprised that it was the exact opposite, per my afore-mentioned stories.
Maybe it’s the vastness of the scenery that makes us all feel humble and dissolves any airs we may have. Maybe it’s the back-to-basics of roughing it at night that also brings some mutual laughs and bonding. Or maybe it’s GCEX’s amazing staff that set the tone for guests of all ages. I’m betting it’s all of the above that nurture making friends of all ages on a GCEX river rafting adventure.