Holidays, by their very definition, are meant to be an enjoyment. And yet, throw the word “family” into the mix and suddenly we all have nightmare visions of tantrums, arguments and new grey hairs.
Book a family cruise and your holiday is both easy and enjoyable. And because we know you don’t believe us, here’s the world’s most cynical cruise-sceptic to address all your family cruising doubts. You might just be surprised.
Cruising? No way. Cruises are too expensive for my entire family.
Let’s start with some stats, because numbers don’t lie. If you’re savvy, the average family cruise can start around $68 per person, per day. This can include your accommodation, main meals, activities and entertainment. And we know what you’re thinking – what entertainment? Well, most cruises include the following - where available:
- Main theatre performances
- Pools & pool games
- Dance classes
- Deck sports - such as rock climbing, mini golf, ropes courses, shuffleboard
- Steam rooms & saunas
- Fitness centre
- Video games & arcades
- Court sports
If this were a regular holiday, the theatre alone would cost you over $70. And unlike almost all other family holidays, the more you do on a cruise, the more value you get out of it.
Standout cruise: Royal Caribbean ships boast ice skating rinks, surf pools, skydiving simulators, carousels, bumper cars and zip lines. Yep, ALL included.
You won’t get my kids enjoying a formal three course dinner
Let's ditch the cruising soirees of yesteryear, it’s 2017 and you don’t need to pack a tuxedo. Meals can be as formal or as informal as you like, ranging from chicken fingers and pizza slices to Wagyu beef and sashimi. Most cruise lines now have open dining, it’s the way of the future, but many parents prefer to feed their kids in a casual venue (such as the buffet) and then send them to a kids’ club before dining together - in a more intimate, adult-appeasing restaurant.
Standout cruise: Royal Caribbean offer a program allowing kids and parents go to the dining room together, but children are served first - and quickly – before being picked up by youth program staff.
Wagyu beef!? We're all vegetarians.
Vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free or diabetic. If your family have food preferences, allergies or restrictions, simply let the cruise line know before departure. Discuss this with your HOT travel consultant and the entire process will be even simpler. Once on-board the Maître d’ is on-hand to further discuss dietary requirements; they’ll even bring you the next day's menu so you can assess what’s on it.
Standout cruise: With P&O Cruises you can keep the kids happy with their 'Mini Menu' at The Waterfront Restaurant. Offering a huge choice of options that are both nutritious and sure to please, the kids' special menu changes daily, so even the fussiest eaters will find something they’ll love. The Waterfront Restaurant is available on all P&O ships and is open for breakfast and dinner every day, as well as lunch most days.
Where’s everyone going to sleep? A cabin won’t accommodate us all
You’d be surprised. As a general rule, standard cabins fit two passengers comfortably, but can easily sleep a family of four. Most standard cabins have Pullmans, which turn into bunk beds, whereas Balcony Cabin categories usually offer pull out sofas. This is an ideal option if you don’t intend to spend a lot of time inside your cabin. Alternatively, designated family cabins can sleep five or six, and there are also larger suites which accommodate up to 12 family members all sailing together – so grab the grandparents if you wish – and great uncle Jimmy too. Upper-tier suites are a good call for as many as 14 guests in a series of interconnected rooms, while many cruise lines also allow children of a certain age to stay in an adjoining room, or a cabin across the hall.
Standout cruise: Got a big clan? Royal Caribbean’s Presidential Family Suite Freedom is ideal for the entire family. The Presidential Family Suite includes four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a spacious living area with an entertainment centre and flatscreen TV. The private balcony includes a whirlpool, a wet bar, lounge chairs and an al fresco dining area that seats fourteen. Erm, yes please dad!
Won’t my kids get bored stuck on a ship?
Between the swimming pools, the activities and endless movies, it’s unlikely. But cruise ships also facilitate kids’ clubs which are more akin to a summer camp. With dedicated play spaces with camp-like programming, counsellors lead all-day activities that cover everything from scavenger hunts to sports tournaments.
Standout cruise: P&O - From DUPLO® Play centre* to arts and crafts, themed nights to talent shows – the hardest part of Turtle Cove is deciding what to do first.
My child is shy and will hate every minute of kids' club
Counsellors are well-trained to make even the shiest of kids find their comfort zone, and they’ll usually do this by finding out what really makes your child tick. It could be arts and crafts, or science experiments and cookie baking; they’ll suss it out and find a way to put a smile on their dial.
Standout cruise: Carnival Cruise Line put kids into supervised, age-based groups and give each a cool marine-life label. The littlest little ones — ages 2 to 5 — join the Penguin colony and engage in activities like Musical Icebergs and Ocean Bingo… even learning a thing or two about buoyancy. The little-biggers, 6 to 8, are the way-cool Stingrays, who might be found enjoying Pirate Game Night, making sea salt art or even designing their own aquarium. The big fish are the Sharks — ages 9 to 11 — who love playing Marine Life Trivia, creating a giant ocean mural, and scoring big with games and sports competitions. Counsellors, each with education or childcare experience, are there to make sure everyone has an amazing time.
Fine during the day, but how are we going to occupy them come nightfall?
Almost all big-ship cruise lines offer group babysitting in the kids’ club until midnight or later. Allowing parents to enjoy a child-free evening on any given night. Lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line are worth noting for their late night children’s clubs. However, be aware that very few lines offer in-cabin baby-sitting.
Standout cruise: Planning a romantic dinner for two? On Royal Caribbean, leave the kids in safe hands any day of the week at Late Night Fun Zone. Small fee applies.
Well I have teenagers too and there’s no way they’re stomaching a kids’ club
Nobody wants a ship full of bored, bad-tempered teenagers, which is exactly why most cruise lines offer extensive kids' facilities, split by age. No teenager wants to hang out with children, or their parents for that matter, so teens and tweens usually have their own separate cruise spots. Far removed from play areas and even further from the pools and bars their parents frequent. From DJ parties to talent shows and prom nights, you’ll hardly see them for the duration of your holiday - exactly how they like it.
Standout cruise: Royal Caribbean boast ice skating (and regular skating), surfing and skydiving simulators, as well as specialised teen-tailored spa treatments and ‘no elders allowed’ lounges serving sinless mocktails.
I don’t want seasick kids on my hands
New generation cruise ships come fully equipped with computerised stabilisation systems. Your best asset for incredibly smooth sailing even in choppy waters. However, if you do have family members who are prone to motion sickness, you’re better opting for an mid-ship cabin, and lower (IE closer to the water) rather than “up top”.
Standout cruise: P&O’s Pacific Jewel have cabins starting from deck 5, mid-ship cabins are middle of the range in pricing and are the perfect position. There are inside and oceanview cabins available on deck 5 mid-ship.
How do I know my children are safe?
Cruise ships are required to constantly undergo Coast Guard inspections. They follow strict international rules, known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and once aboard, every passenger must participate in a “muster drill” for instructions on locating and putting on life jackets and finding an assigned lifeboat.
That only covers water safety
Staff working for all cruise kids’ clubs are required to have college degrees in education and child development, and they’re heavily vetted. While in the care of a minder or counsellor, children are constantly supervised. It is, however, important to remember cruise ships are no different to small towns (or cities if it’s a large ship) with many more strangers than familiar faces. As long as you treat the ship like you would your home town, you needn’t over-worry.
Standout cruise: Royal Caribbean – Every member of the youth team holds a four-year degree in education, recreation or a related field and has extensive experience working with children.
What’s the deal with port days?
On certain ships, you can drop your kids off at the children’s club and then leave the ship for a day of exploration child-free. But if you’re a parent who’d like to show your offspring more of the world, port days are effortless. Perhaps you’re curious about a place, but nervous about customs, or you’d love to see a certain country, but the language barrier is a concern? Simply take a tour with your ship’s English-speaking guide and all these fears are erased.
Standout cruise: P&O Cruises offer discounted shore excursion fees for children. They also have a range of children friendly shore excursion options for each destination.
My family and I don’t like tours
Not a problem. Use the port days to explore a destination at your own free will. There’s a common misconception that if you deter from the guided cruise group, you’ll miss embarkation later in the day, but as long as you are well organised – and own a watch – you can visit any one of the ports independently, just as you would on a regular holiday.
Standout cruise: P&O Cruises are really good with their longer stays in port, allowing you and your family to maximise your stay and not be too worried about the time.
That's a wrap
To conclude, cruising as a family offers a holiday for everyone involved. From relaxing by the pool, to the kids meetings other sprogs their own age, there is something for every type of traveller. Pool and a pizza, deck chair, popcorn and a movie, or even a theatre performance after dinner. Family cruising offers variety and flexibility. Shore excursions are an opportunity to explore a new destination through a Group Tour, or wander on your own. Grab some family friends, take a group and cruise together.
Matching the correct Cruise Line to your family is actually our role. Your HoT consultant will go out of their way to ensure your cruise holiday is everything you expect. Get in touch or pop in-store, our cruise experts are some of the best in the biz.
Looking for a few cruise ideas before you pop in-store? Here's your definitive guide to cruising.
HoT cruise hints
1. Generally, cruise lines won't provide strollers, diapers, bottles or bottle warmers for toddlers (Disney being the exception).
2. Tipping is customary on most cruises, but gratuities are usually added to the passenger’s onboard accounts so no cash tipping is necessary.
3. Late-night drop-off at a children’s play group usually incurs an hourly cost.
4. P&O Cruises now allow children as young as two into the kids club, as long as they are toilet trained.
5. Some cruise lines are also linked to different (very fun) children’s franchises e.g.: P&O – Duplo & Lego; Carnival – Hasbro, Dr Seuss, Build-A-Bear; Royal Caribbean – DreamWorks.