1. Book a larger stateroom, or even a suite, so that you have plenty of room. Thomson Cruises has family cabins on all of its ships that accommodate two adults and two children, and the newly refurbished Thomson Dream has suites with balconies which now come with iPod docking stations and flat screen TVs – ideal for families.
2. Although lots of entertainment is free the bills soon rack up for tempting video games, gift shops and paid-for drinks and snacks on some ships. Set a daily limit (and if you’re giving them their own key cards, you may need to put a limit on their accounts). All childrens’ clubs on all lines are free, but there may be charges for specific activities.
3.The big trend in family cruises right now is multi-generational holidays – even on luxury lines. “Our cruises are perfect for a multi-generational holiday,” says UK Managing Director Andy Magowan. “SeaDream’s prices include use of water sports toys and all recreational facilities. Every stateroom is equipped with the latest entertainment centres including iPod docking stations.”
4. Look out for family-friendly excursions.Try to avoid long coach journeys if it’s hot – you can join a ship’s trip to a beautiful beach or hire bicycles for a family tour. Keeping in touch with kids by mobile phone is very expensive from a ship and most walkie-talkies don’t work well. But some cruise lines have special phones for this purpose.
5. Choose a cruise inclusive of gratuities or on board tips and you’ll save a small fortune. Some cruise lines charge each passenger a daily gratuity rate – even children. Some allow passengers to cancel the automatic charges and distribute their own tips, but this has to be done on the first day of the cruise.
6. Family-friendly ships will all have children’s menus with treats such as pizza and chips, spaghetti bolognese and bangers and mash. Only top of the range luxury lines such as Oceania, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea don’t provide special meals.
7. Before you book, check out what baby equipment is available to borrow. You can pre order nappies, baby food and milk formula on Disney cruises, for example, with freshly pureed vegetables available as well as buggies and nappy bins. Any ship with a children’s club should have cots and highchairs and most will warm bottles for you. Some cruise lines offer babysitting at night: Cunard and P&O cruise ships have free night nurseries, and there are charges for group babysitting on the following lines: Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Regent and Royal Caribbean (from $5 to $25).
8. River cruises are an option for families with children interested in historic cities such as Prague and Budapest. Some cruise lines have bicycles on board for guests to borrow and offer discounts for passengers under 12 sharing with a parent.
9. One size does not fit all, according to Andy Harmer, director of the Association of Cruise Experts. “Just because there are children in the party, don’t assume they will be interested in attending the many varied, and great, kids’ clubs. They might be happier in a well-stocked library, relaxing by the pool with their iPad or taking part in the many sports activities that can be found on board.” If your child likes to learn, Princess Cruises have ‘edutainment’ Junior Enrichment lessons presented by the California Science Centre and cookery lessons in its Junior Chefs at Sea programme.
10. Teenagers’ clubs should have age appropriate entertainment. Royal Caribbean has a DJ Academy, teens travelling on Disney Dream get their own (very cool) pool, and Holland America’s ms Nieuw Amsterdam and ms Eurodam have a New York loft-style club – and hot tub parties.
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