Can you persuade two Minecraft-obsessed children and a cruise-phobic husband to enjoy their first family holiday at sea? Laura Driver finds out…
As we looked up – and up – at the magnificent Navigator of the Seas, I could feel my family’s excitement (or in my husband Andy’s case, apprehension) starting to build. This was the start of our first family cruise holiday, but while the kids couldn’t wait to get on board and explore, Andy was a little, shall we say, uneasy about cruising. I’d been on a cruise with my friends before and knew first-hand how much fun they can be, so I couldn’t wait to show him everything this kind of holiday has to offer.
We decided to check out our stateroom and were welcomed by Marvin (“like Gaye”), our stateroom attendant for the week. Our room had plenty of space for a family of four and a balcony added the “wow” factor; waking up each morning and taking in the sea views or the latest port was a real bonus and gave Andy a daily dose of the tranquility he’d hoped for.
Walking round the ship for the first time was a great experience as my family took everything in including the video arcade, ice rink and sports deck. Lily, nine, was able to sign not only herself in and out of the kids’ club but also eight-year-old Charlie, which pleased her greatly and gave us added freedom.
That’s the beauty of a family cruise: it allows you to give children far more independence than perhaps you would at home. Despite the ship’s size (3,000 passengers) they quickly got their bearings and we allowed them to go off on their own every evening after dinner – giving them a meeting point and time to return. This left Andy and I with a few hours to spend together as a couple. We discovered that Alfred, one of the bartenders, made the perfect frozen mojito and that cruise gin measures are HUGE. After a couple of hours we would meet in our room at 10pm, and they would read the Kids Daily Planner that Marvin had left for them on their bed along with some towel origami.
We had chosen a Mediterranean itinerary for our first family cruise because it would give the kids the chance to experience different cultures and hopefully learn something they could take back to the classroom, other than more facts about Minecraft. Our ports of call included classic destinations such as Sicily, Athens, Crete and the Turkish resort of Kusadası.
With Charlie’s love of volcanoes and Lily currently studying natural disasters at school, we opted for an excursion to Mount Etna when we docked in Sicily. Although I really dislike having to follow someone holding a numbered paddle in the air, it was a means to an end and actually worked really well. John, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable and I enjoyed listening to him talk passionately about Sicily as we drove towards stunning Mount Etna, smoking away in the distance.
The 90-minute coach journey wasn’t ideal for the children but we managed to keep them entertained and as we got closer there was a real sense of wonder – the road weaving through beautiful olive and citrus trees and later seeing, from a distance, the giant black snake of lava flow created during its last eruption in 2002. We stood on the Silvestri craters, the closest point to the summit that you can reach and took plenty of photos of the impressive panoramic views. The return journey was broken by a trip to Taormina. Feeling rebellious we broke free from our numbered-paddle disciples and wandered the winding streets, taking in the breathtaking Mediterranean views from IX Aprile Square.
On board, we lounged by the pool, and I discovered that my mini golf skills leave a lot to be desired after being thrashed by the whole family. We played basketball in the sports court and the boys shimmied up the rock climbing wall. Later that evening we had dinner together and watched a magic show in the Metropolis Theatre before falling into bed at 10pm exhausted.
Our final port of call was Crete. We had decided we would take the local bus and get presents for family back home. Shopping not being high on their agenda we gave the children the option to stay on the ship, in the kids’ club, which they were relieved to do. It was a strange feeling, getting off the ship without them but it worked well for us all. We had a grown up tour of a beautiful city and the children had a great time on the ship with their new cruise buddies.
During our cruise we had one sea day, and Andy was interested to see whether we’d feel overwhelmed by other passengers; with the heat in the mid-20s we spent the day by the pool. It was busy, but the children made friends while we relaxed and read our books.
Most evenings we ate at the main restaurant. The food was excellent. Charlie happily ate from the children’s menu and Lily had a mixture of delicacies.
Andy and I also managed to enjoy two “date nights”. The first was at Chops Grille ($30pp cover charge). We dined on Dungeness crab and filet mignon while the children danced the night away at the kids’ club disco. On our final night we went to Portofino, the Italian fine dining restaurant on board ($20pp cover charge). I opted for a skewer of Maine lobster, gamberoni, scallops and salmon – it was exquisite. Without the children we were free to take our time and soak up the atmosphere. On both occasions I felt as though I hadn’t just had a meal, but an experience to remember.
Entertainment by the pool in the afternoons was very amusing. An ice carving contest one day, a belly flop competition and a Miss Navigator of the Seas the next (the latter was won by an 85-year-old Floridian).
Towards the end of the week we were given a tour of the bridge (which can be booked on board and costs approximately $100pp). Seeing all the technology used to guide the ship was fascinating and the kids loved every minute of it, particularly sitting in the Captain’s chair.
A good holiday for me is measured by whether my children have a good time or not. To see their excitement each morning coupled with their exhaustion each evening told me that they had a fabulous experience. The sheer choice of activities coupled with staff who built up a rapport with them over the week and made them feel special was outstanding.
I hadn’t counted on the children being at the kids’ clubs nearly every evening, so for Andy and I to spend time alone together on a family holiday was an unexpected bonus. Andy’s preconceptions were cast adrift somewhere in the Ionian Sea.
In the absence of being able to sign Charlie in and out of the kids’ club Lily is finding new ways to assert her power over him. Charlie’s struggling to make his bed without Marvin and Andy is still pouring cruise measures of gin. My first-time cruisers will definitely be cruising again.
GETTING THERE: A seven-night Greek Isles cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas departing 16 September 2017 costs £2,398 for two adults and two children, cruise only. The price includes a buy one all inclusive cruise fare get one half price promotion. The round trip from Venice calls at Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Athens and Mykonos, Greece; and Argostoli. Visit royalcaribbean.co.uk or call 0844 493 2061.
Laura blogs at arewenearlythereyetmummy.com.
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