The plan was to fly with eight-year-old twins to New York and cruise from there to the Caribbean. Would this be a dream trip, or would it be asking too much of the little ones?
It seemed a long way to go for an eight-night cruise with two under-10s in tow. Sailing with Caribbean Princess from New York to the Caribbean sounded like the perfect escape from a cold and wet English autumn. Better still, it promised to combine one of the world’s most famous cities with the colonial charm of Bermuda and the tropical appeal of the West Indies, before finishing in Puerto Rico. But as we had to fly across the pond and spend a night in New York first, I did wonder if we’d bitten off more than we could chew. I needn’t have worried. The seat-back entertainment ensured our eight-hour flight passed peacefully, and getting to our New York hotel – just a hop, skip and jump away from Times Square – was a breeze.
Our eight-year-old twin daughters were wide eyed with wonder, and we were all eager to make the most of our time in town. As our ship did not depart until the following afternoon, we enjoyed a morning stroll in Central Park, and were dragged around the FAO Schwartz toy shop on Fifth Avenue, with its floor piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the film Big. Then it was time to jump on the pre-arranged transfer to the cruise pier in Brooklyn, where formalities took just a few minutes before we strolled up the gangplank.
There was much to explore on the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess, with four swimming pools, Lotus Spa, many bars and two speciality restaurants. But these were all forgotten when we set sail. Few departures can have such a memorable start, and I will never forget gliding past the Statue of Liberty at sunset, watching in awe as the towering skyscrapers faded into the dusk.
Cruising with two mini seadogs
With the initial excitement over, any worries I’d had about my daughters, Holly and Dani, getting bored quickly evaporated. It became clear we had two mini seadogs on our hands, who revelled in the novelty of being on a ‘big boat.’ Over the next few days they spent their time splashing around in the two family pools, catching films on the ‘Movies under the Stars’ giant outdoor cinema screen, and joining in the children’s activities.
There were three children’s clubs, and the girls couldn’t wait to join Shockwaves, which catered for eight to 12 year olds with a lively mix of ice-cream parties, talent shows and scavenger hunts. While we mainly stayed and played as a family, the chance to escape from each other on occasion was a welcome novelty. In search of a quiet moment one morning, I couldn’t resist sampling The Sanctuary VIP deck area, with plush chaise longue sunbeds, pre-loaded MP3 players and butler service. Like most good things in life, it isn’t free, but the $10 half-day charge was a small price to pay for this oasis of calm.
It’s worth noting that Princess charges an optional daily hotel and dining charge of $10.50 per person (including
for kids), but – a nice touch this – you can ask for it to be taken off your bill if you wish to tip independently.
Most evenings we ate together in the main restaurants. We’d opted for the anytime dining plan, so we could dine whenever we chose. Parents with younger children often opted for the more casual Horizon Court buffet, whichwas more flexible but still served a good range of dishes.
On a couple of evenings we took the girls there, then dropped them off at the kids’ club so we could enjoy the more exclusive surroundings of Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill speciality restaurants. Both carry a cover charge, of $20 and $25 respectively, and while Sabatini’s serves up the flavours of Italy, the Crown Grill is an unashamed meat-fest – they even bring a platter of raw cuts to your table to help you choose.
Our evenings were generally spent watching shows in the main theatre. There was a good choice of other options, but with two eight-year-olds, evenings were never going to be wild, late affairs. Our living arrangements worked well with two little ones. We were very comfortably accommodated in a mini-suite boasting a large double bed, and a living area with sofa that converted into a roomy bed for the children.
Sliding glass doors led to a spacious balcony, and we had a walk-in dressing area and an ensuite with a power shower and a bath. Like the rest of the ship, the décor in our cabin was attractive and tasteful, with two TVs (great for both adults and kids!) and a fridge.
Caribbean colonial charms
Having departed New York, our first port of call couldn’t have been more different. Bermuda’s pristine colonial charms were evident from the moment we docked at the former British Royal Naval Dockyard at the island’s most westerly point, West End. The crowds dispersed on island tours, but we jumped on the ferry for the 20-minute hop to the capital, Hamilton. The beauty of Bermuda and many Caribbean islands is that the main towns are nearby, and on many you dock right in the centre. This makes it far easier if you’re taking children ashore, as you can come and go as you please – or when they get hot, tired and bored!
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy getting off at all, port days offer an ideal opportunity to make the most of the ship’s facilities when there are no queues and no crowds. You can take your pick from the rows of empty sunbeds, have the pool to yourself and luxuriate alone in the hot tubs on deck.
In St Lucia, Caribbean Princess docked in the centre of the capital, Castries, so we went ashore to browse the duty-free shopping malls and local market. There wasn’t much else to see, though – you need to head out of the capital to experience the best of the island.
On Antigua we again docked in the centre of the capital, St John’s, which offered appealing surroundings. The cathedral is striking, the Heritage Quay duty-free area an easy place to shop, and picturesque Redcliffe Quay is just a few streets away.
The capital Charlotte Amalie was a $4 taxi ride from the port in the US Virgin Island of St Thomas,
though many passengers opted for one of the boating excursions, particularly popular with families.
Taking a cruise like this is a great way to explore the Caribbean, and very cost-effective with children as so
much is included. It’s the sort of adventure that gives those once-in-a-lifetime memories that passengers of all ages will cherish.
Snorkelling in St Thomas
I didn’t really expect to enjoy our stop at St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. It doesn’t have the best of reputations, thanks to crime problems, overdevelopment and being regularly swamped with cruise ships. But as well as being the last day of our eight-day cruise, it was one of the best, thanks to a great boat trip full of family fun.
Most of our excursions up to this point had revolved around visiting the islands’ marine attractions, so this time we opted for the half-day Turtle Cove sail & snorkel adventure. We sailed back out of the harbour, past our cruise ship, before reaching Buck Island and the perfectly rounded Turtle Cove for a spot of snorkelling – the first time our daughters had tried this. Once we were all kitted out with flippers and snorkels we followed the guide into the water, swimming over the rocks and corals on a fish-spotting exercise. We didn’t have to wait long before shoals of brightly coloured parrotfish shot into view along with endearing little trumpetfish and distinctive yellow snapper. But the best sights came later, when we spotted a stationary barracuda warily lurking in the depths, and a stingray burying itself in the sand of the ocean floor beneath us.
There was much excitement when a turtle came paddling by, and at this point I couldn’t help thinking what a great introduction this trip had been for the children. Not too demanding, but with enough fish to keep everyone interested, and great fun and well-organised.
Opting for the morning tour was a good move as it wasn’t too crowded. The afternoon trip was packed.
NEED TO KNOW
✽ Itinerary: New York, Bermuda, St Lucia, Antigua, St Thomas, Puerto Rico
✽ Duration: 8 nights
✽ What makes it different: Sailing from New York to the Caribbean; visiting Bermuda
✽ Who is the cruise suited to: Passengers of all ages, particularly those looking for a premium 4-star-plus product
✽ Visa requirements: : Not needed, though UK citizens will need an ESTA for the US
✽ What to take: A supply of US dollars as these are accepted widely in the Caribbean, and lots of suntan lotion as the sun is strong year-round
✽ Sample package: 9 nights on Caribbean Princess, departing 10 July from New York, visiting Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, St Thomas and Bermuda, from £1,749pp, including flights, transfers and one night in a hotel pre-sailing
✽ Contact: Tel: 0845 3555 800; princess.com