Is it possible to have a harmonious multi-generational cruise? We sent Kate McEnery Shorvon, her mum Julie Peasgood, their husbands Nicho and Patrick along with toddler Saha on a P&O Cruises Caribbean cruise to find out
She weaves her way across the deck, copper curls gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine, oblivious to the admiring glances she elicits and the fact that everyone she meets seems to fall instantly in love with her.
At 18 months old, my lovely granddaughter Saha is charming the socks off the crew as well as her fellow passengers, and the greatest pleasure for me is to see her tottering around, discovering new delights every day of our fortnight on board P&O Cruises’ ship Azura.
I took my daughter Kate on a cruise when she was in her early 20s, and she has always wanted to share her passion for cruising with husband Nicho. Now he’s a confirmed fan, too, along with Saha and my husband Patrick, and as far as we’re concerned, multi-generational family cruising is the best thing since sliced plantain (available in the buffet).
On this cruise we are one of several multi-generational families, and we’re not the only ones to find it a unifying experience. We navigate any issues swiftly, and we discover it’s an ideal way to spend quality time together, while still managing to do our own thing. Kate and I even go to the early morning fitness classes together (something we’ve intended to do for years but have never quite managed until now).
Of course, when you’re cruising with children, eating is a big part of life on board, and the Freedom Dining option is just what’s needed with different age groups to please. Lie-ins are more than catered for – it’s possible to enjoy full hot buffet breakfasts until 11.30am, plus a healthy selection of tantalising “grab and go” snacks are on offer in addition to regular meals (invaluable if you need something quickly between excursions).
The Maître d’ in the Peninsular Restaurant goes out of his way to ensure that my son-in-law’s coeliac diet is catered for; any dish Nicho fancies from the menu is adapted for the next evening to make it gluten-free.
We all dine together most evenings (even the Michelin-starred Sindhu Indian restaurant and Olly Smith’s stylish Glass House welcome us en famille) and, although late-night entertainment usually passes me by (call me a wimp but I crave my bed around 10pm), Kate and Nicho avail themselves of the complimentary babysitting service that The Reef kids’ club provides. Knowing that the pager issued will give an instant call if they are needed affords them some welcome downtime and even a rare dance or two.
Before we arrived in the Caribbean I had naturally been concerned about the level of damage wreaked by Hurricane Irma – the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history – but the islands we visit have mercifully survived largely unscathed. What comes across very clearly is the indomitable spirit of the Caribbean people, which will never be quashed.
Martinique still offers a sophisticated market overflowing with local crafts; we spend a gorgeous day in Guadeloupe lazing on the beach, which is every bit as idyllic as I remember from a cruise here two years ago, and potent rum punches flow as always in Barbados and Antigua (with grated nutmeg added for an interesting twist).
My favourite excursion, however, is to the Diamond cocoa estate in Grenada, where we are shown around the little bean-to-bar Jouvay chocolate factory. Afterwards we sample the product, including their eye-watering, 100 per cent cocoa hard stuff (I am no longer a wimp).
I have only ever sailed with Patrick or Kate before, but I think as a family we have now successfully proven that a cruise needn’t just be for twos.
Being able to see so much of our granddaughter is in fact the most special aspect of the cruise for us. We don’t live close by, so visits are not as frequent as we’d like and the opportunity to get to know Saha better (and her us) really means a lot. She loves Patrick reading to her and I am very proud watching her interact with everyone – even though her vocabulary is limited to ‘wow’ and ‘bye-bye’.
We all feel grateful and relieved to find the Caribbean as warm and welcoming as ever and we’re already discussing destinations for another multi-generational cruise.
I knew my husband Nicho was a cruise convert from day one when he discovered a live broadcast of the big match on an enormous screen above one of Azura’s pool bars. While he enjoyed the sun and a cold drink, immersed in sport heaven, I splashed about with our daughter Saha in the shaded kids’ pool.
In fact, we feel so at home on board that the idea of venturing on shore seems a bit daunting. But the bright turquoise colour of the sea, palm trees swaying in the breeze and the jaunty sound of steel drums are just too inviting, so after a day or two relaxing on Azura, we decide to brave it and venture out. We scoop up little Saha, apply copious amounts of sunscreen, zip her into a UPF 50 body suit and head off to explore the Dominican Republic.
A couple of hours later and we are sitting on the most glorious beach, watching a tiny white sailboat drift along the horizon, and eating a plate of grilled sea bass, swimming in lime juice and Caribbean hot sauce. It is quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
Saha snoozes peacefully under the shade of a giant umbrella and Nicho is swimming in crystal clear water. Our taxi driver is waving to me from the shade, where he is waiting for us patiently in a bright shirt and Panama hat. We are one of five couples, if that, on this beach, but I feel no need to panic about getting back to the ship. The silver-white sand is warm beneath my toes and I take a sip of my chilled rosé wine. It is the perfect snapshot holiday moment.
Back at the port, the scene is very different, with bustling duty-free shoppers snapping up bargains, and larger-than-life cocktails being served at bars you can swim to. We feel grateful to have had a moment to ourselves, away from everyone else, but the energy in the port is catching and before long we find ourselves hurtling down a giant slide at the water park.
We take it in turns to go down, while the other takes photos, and position our daughter at the bottom so she gets the best view of Mum or Dad being spat out at the bottom. I scream loudly every time – an instinctive reaction that makes her howl with laughter. We arrive back at the cabin sandy, relaxed and happy, and I can really feel that the Caribbean is going to chill us out on this holiday.
However, my determination to relax is thwarted a few days later, when a trip to the rainforest in St Lucia brings a wave of terror. My adventurous mother has convinced us that ziplining 150ft over a waterfall in the jungle is the perfect date for my husband and I. As she and Patrick have offered to babysit (five hours!), we jump at the suggestion without properly thinking it through.
It hits me around the point when I’m fitted for a harness and locked into an intricate system of ropes and metal, that I’m actually not that great with heights, and that maybe water slides are enough of an adrenaline high for me.
Our guides, Tali and Vellan, laugh at me playfully and tell me to just lean back, and the next thing I know, I am speeding through the air above the rainforest canopy like a tourist Tarzan, the sound of rushing water smashing into rocks below me.
It’s exhilarating, and we collapse into peals of laughter at the end of each line (there are eight altogether, including a rope swing). Nicho is ecstatic. He enjoys the ziplining, but is most excited to have experienced such an authentic encounter with the rainforest’s flora and fauna.
Our other shore excursion is much more child-friendly: a treetop train ride in St Kitts, ideal for little Saha. This feels a far more relaxed affair (aided perhaps by a complimentary rum punch). The journey is around two hours; a choir sings, a steel band plays and everyone happily joins in. As the train chugs along we admire the amazing panoramic views of the coastline, beautiful waterfalls and old churches nestled in hillsides.
The optimistic attitude here is catching. Although some of the islands have recently taken a battering from Hurricane Irma, the beauty of this place cannot be spoiled, and our tour guide Eustace simply shrugs and says: ‘We’ll be fine.’ He recommends we all have a cold beer at sunset, promising us: ‘You’ll be fine.’ As we pass a newly opened cinema he says: ‘Eight screens! We’ll be fine.’
Somehow I feel that if I take one thing back with me from this holiday, it has to be the upbeat outlook on life that Eustace has. And, sure enough, as I look about at the happy smiling faces of my family and fellow passengers, I feel I know one thing for sure: that after two weeks in the Caribbean, we’ll be fine.
GETTING THERE: P&O Cruises’ offers a 14-night cruise on Azura round trip from Barbados, from £1,299pp based on two adults sharing, and from £4,120pp based on two adults and two children sharing an inside cabin. Departing 16 November 2018, the price includes return flights from selected UK airports, kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board. Ports of call include Antigua, St Kitts, Tortola, Amber Cove, St Maarten, St Lucia, Grenada, and St Vincent (0843 373 0111; pocruises.com).