Cruise International contributor Linda Aitchison discusses in depth a variety of tips and advice to help plan and enjoy a family cruise
I’ve just returned from a cruise to Jordan and Egypt, aboard the Thomson Celebration, with my daughters. It was an amazing week, packed full of memorable sights and unforgettable experiences.
But what really appeals to me as a mum about this style of holiday is the lack of stress involved.
Usually, I’m a bundle of anxiety as I juggle paperwork – tickets, visas, passports, maps and all the other paraphernalia connected with getting from A to B in a foreign country – not to mention an overseas bus station or airport with two kids in tow.
A cruise takes the worry away. Once you have set foot on the ship, all of that is taken care of for you – a packed itinerary of trips will take you to the tourist hotspots or perhaps off the beaten track.
If you are more independent of course you can find your own way. But for me, as I marvelled at the beauty of the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids and the Dead Sea, I was delighted to have been escorted there, rather than having to have found my own way in the time available.
We rose early to join the trips and slept in our seats, we savoured five-star luxury at hotels when it came to lunch time, and learned all about our destinations with an expert guide. Two rested daughters not having to rely on their mum to tell them all about the curse of Tutankhamen after negotiating Cairo traffic are much easier companions than the alternative.
My friends seem to still be under the impression that cruises mean a gentle meander through historic sites before swotting up on flower arranging and donning a ball gown or dinner jacket for a stuffy banquet. Their parents have been on cruises, perhaps years ago, and the picture has stuck. But on a family cruise aboard the Disney Wonder in 2009 we never stopped – from pirate-themed parties to gasp-out-loud firework displays, there was something for everyone.
You may also consider – as we did – that a cruise with kids is an expensive option. But with prices covering accommodation, food and entertainment, it really can be excellent value. With cruise companies competing for your custom during the credit crunch, shop around for some great deals.
One preconception you have about cruising may actually ring true…yes you can eat as much as you like. Be prepared to pile on the pounds as you sample the delights of on-board restaurants. French-inspired Triton’s and Italian-themed Palo’s on the Disney Wonder (www.disneycruise.co.uk) are out of this world, On Thomson’s Celebration, there was a wonderful choice in the buffet-style dining room and posher fare in the Meridian, with no booking necessary.
Of course there’s also wealth of opportunity to work off the delicious meals – by jogging around deck or visiting an extensive gym, it’s just a shame we never found the time…Or you could dance the night away.
Top tips for a family cruise
- Cruising can be a joy. But there is so much to see and do, you may be spoilt for choice. Make sure your cruise is genuinely family friendly – just because children can go, doesn’t mean they are going to enjoy it. Look at the marketing material –are children pictured having a great time or are the images all of adults sipping cocktails and gazing into each others’ eyes?
- Plan well ahead, ask all family members for their input so that they know there’ll be plenty of chances to do what they want, and minimise the chances of bickering.
- Research the destinations you will visit to help you make the most of them. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But with a fleeting stay in some places, prior knowledge is power.
Get to know your ship before you set foot on it! Check with your company to see how much information they can provide – for example Disney has a DVD of its ships, or you can find out more from other people’s stays on YouTube.
- Check out the staterooms or cabins – what are the arrangements for children’s sleeping? Are cots available and is there a fee to rent one during the day? Make sure you are clear about dining times and how these fit with your family – flexible dining is very important when you’re travelling with kids.
- Choose an option that suits a time slot near to when your children usually eat so routines aren’t overly disrupted – even on holiday, this can lead to stress.
- Shop around for the best deals which may include onboard credit so you don’t
have to worry about a huge bill at the end of your cruise. On the Thomson Celebration, the costs of all tips are included in the price you pay for your holiday, which is a huge bonus.
- Book excursions online before you go to take advantage of any discounts offered and to avoid disappointment – they really do fill up, it’s not just eager sales teams trying to pressure you into paying up.
Cruise International contributor Linda Aitchison is also editor of family travel website Have a Lovely Time