Q&A with Erika Villanueva from Viajes To Go Vacations

You recently organized a cruise for moms who have kids with special needs: what made you think of the idea?

Well, I had initially held a fundraising cruise for the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation in 2009.
That’s where I met Gail Williamson, who at the time was working with the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

A couple of years later she contacted me about an idea that they had to put together a cruise just for moms, and they needed some help with the logistics. I thought that this was a fantastic idea and did not hesitate to jump onboard (so-to-speak).
It is the ONLY group cruise that I arrange that I travel with and participate in.

Since you are a travel agent, did you prepare any special features or pampering for your participants on board?

Yes. Definitely. I arranged to have our group dine together so that we could socialize and get to know one another.

Also, we had a meet and greet presentation the first night where the director from the D.S.A.L.A, who gave a brief summary of what will be going on, and we had contests and gave away gifts.

One year we had a slide presentation with pictures of all of the moms and their families and each was able to give a brief introduction–it was an ice breaker of sorts. I arranged to have a group photo shoot on the ship’s atrium stairs, and everyone received a complimentary 8 x 10 photo to take home as a reminder of their weekend. Lastly, the last day before departure I arranged a complimentary cocktail party for the ladies where we were able to have fun and say our goodbyes.


 Q&A with Erika Villanueva from Viajes To Go Vacations ladies

Photo credit Erika Villanueva

How many moms ended up coming?

Each year it keeps growing. This past January we had eighty-two ladies. Most of the moms are from Los Angeles and surrounding area, but we have had moms coming from Texas, Arizona, Oregon, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and even Canada.

What ship did you go on this year?

We sailed the Carnival Inspiration. I set it up so that moms could choose what type of cabin that fit their needs/budget best. So, we had moms that booked inside cabins, others that had oceanview (picture window) and some that splurged and got balcony suites. No matter what type of cabin we chose the service was excellent. That’s what we came for; to have someone pamper us for three days.

Did you get to enjoy activities as a group?

Yes. There were the “dancers”, the “singers”, the sports enthusiasts and even the ladies who loved the casino.
The women would come together, make plans and meet at the different activity and entertainment venues. These were women that had just met and were all hanging out together as if they had known each other forever.

Meal times were the best. Eating great food, sharing experiences and lots of laughs.

 Q&A with Erika Villanueva from Viajes To Go Vacations table

Photo credit Erika Villanueva

What did you all do in Ensenada?

Some ladies didn’t even get off the ship deciding to savor the peace and quiet of the spa or pool. Others took some excursions to see the famous Blow Hole, visit one of the wineries or do some shopping.

How did you feel about traveling without your family for a change?

It’s always a little nerve-racking to leave the family.
My husband is great about making me go and reassuring me that he can hold the fort down until I get back.
However, I always take out travel insurance because I’m paranoid.

In the end, I’m always glad that I made that time for myself.

How did other moms feel about coming on their own?

I saved an email that one of the moms sent after the cruise was over and I just have to quote here part of what she said since it pretty much sums up most everyone’s thoughts
… “I walked on that ship by myself, and I didn’t know a single person besides Gail.  I had no real idea of what I was getting into and it was scary. I was just now looking at our group photo, and now I can put names to soo many of the faces.  I walked on that ship feeling quite alone… I walked off feeling like I spent the weekend with family…”

 Q&A with Erika Villanueva from Viajes To Go Vacations casino

Photo credit Erika Villanueva

Would you recommend taking a moms only cruise, and why?

Yes. Definitely.
I know from personal experience how draining juggling work and parenting with kids especially special needs can be.
I  needed to have a few days to recharge and to feel refreshed to take on the world again. Words cannot describe the feeling of being amongst other women that understand where you are coming from and that do not have a puzzled look on their faces when you are describing your child’s behaviors, health, diets and anything else that goes on with raising a child with special needs.
It’s priceless.
This last cruise I took my mother along, and it also was great for her to meet other grandmas and ladies her age with similar experiences. Many bonds were formed, and we look forward to seeing each other and catching up next January again.

Erika is married and mom to a very energetic, neuro-typical nine-year-old daughter, and a ten-year-old son with Down Syndrome and Autism.

She is a Certified Accessible Travel Advocate providing specialized vacations for those with mobility, visual, hearing, and sensory limitations. She believes Autism can be very challenging and can limit a family from doing many things that typical families can do. She continuously tries to find ways to overcome some of those challenges by planning short getaways and day trips for her family as well as help other special needs families plan their getaways through her travel agency and Down Syndrome activism.


 Q&A with Erika Villanueva from Viajes To Go Vacations home

Photo credit Erika Villanueva


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