May 25, 2011

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Cruising – the ideal family holiday

Bob wht shirt 1If there is one area of travel that has grabbed the headlines in recent years it is the cruise industry. With a wide range of ships catering to the family market, newly launched vessels and exciting itineraries, the option of taking a family on a cruise has never been easier. So what are the things you should consider and why should you look to book your next family holiday on the ocean waves?

Reasons for families to cruise

• Incredible value for money
• Sailings direct from the UK – no flying necessary for many itineraries
• Dedicated children’s clubs for all ages
• Wide range of entertainment and activities for all ages of children
• The whole family can go away together and still be entertained, from babies through to Granny and Grandad
• A unique experience that you will never get on dry land and a real adventure for children

The ships

A cruise ship in the 21st century bears little relation to the vessels from the golden age of the liners. Once the preserve of the monied classes, today’s ships are affordable, modern and contemporary in design, catering specially for the family market. Ranging in size from the recently launched Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest ship based in Florida, through to smaller European based ships with the big tour operators such as Thomson, there are lots to choose from. And prices won’t break the bank starting from as little as £299 for a three or four night taster cruise. But it is the facilities that will blow your mind, often surpassing anything you will find in a traditional beach hotel.

A number of ships are based from the UK this summer, including Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, ideal for families as well as P&O’s fleet of Aurora, Azura, Oceana, Oriana and Ventura – all having dedicated facilities for the market. And sailing from Southampton means no worries about taking the family through airports and no concerns about luggage weight. Independence is the second largest cruise ship in the world and has every kind of facility on board you can think of. The ships sail to ports across Europe from the sunshine of the Med to the stunning scenery of the Norwegian fjords and cultural capitals such as St Petersburg.

In Europe, ships are based out of ports such as Barcelona, Palma and Genoa, all easily accessed from the UK. Cruises to the Caribbean tend to be based in Florida, via flights to Miami or Orlando or on the islands themselves, such as Barbados with dedicated direct flights laid on.

Facilities for families

The ships that welcome families offer the following to help families make the best of their breaks:

• A wide range of food – from baby products to fast food, healthy options and special diets – a cruise ship caters for all of these and will also have children’s menus too. With breakfast and lunch having self service options, children can pick can choose just what they want from a wide range of cuisines. With food included in the price you do not constantly have to put your hand in your pocket for snacks.
• Activities – the ships have activities for all ages, from baby minding all the way up to clubs and chill out areas for teenagers. The options on offer tend to be grouped into age ranges from toddlers up to young adults to ensure that entertainment and activities are tailored to the age. These can be everything from sports to arts and crafts, child friendly entertainers, and the chance to take part in on board shows and to learn new skills. Most ships have game consoles, DVD libraries and organise endless activities through the day to keep the children occupied.
• Safety – whilst it may be a concern that your children are running riot around a ship at sea, they are surprisingly safe and are well geared to looking after the little ones. They are usually issued with wrist bands with contact details in case they wander off on board and whilst in the activity clubs they are supervised by trained staff. However you should take care to educate them about the dangers of climbing up on rails and balconies and include them in the safety briefing that always takes place at the beginning of the cruise. Getting to try on the special child life jackets will be fun for them as part of the drill.
• Entertainment – with most adult entertainment taking place in the evenings, many ships run baby sitting and other services for children so you can enjoy the fun on offer. However many ships also have family style entertainment from outdoor high diving acts on the Oasis of The Seas to ice shows and Broadway style theatre productions, many of which are suitable for the family.
• Cabins – if you are travelling as part of a larger family or extended family groups you can often book adjoining cabins. Many also have connecting doors and some also have larger accommodation suitable for up to four people.

Pricing

It is not uncommon for cruise lines to offer free travel to those under two years of age when sharing a cabin with parents. Children also get discounts when sharing a cabin with mum and dad, however if you require a separate cabin then prices will be as for adults. Book as early as possible for the best deals.

Don’t forget that the prices you pay include practically all entertainment, food and drink for your family and in many ways is like an all inclusive arrangement. So it is incredible value. For adults you only pay for alcohol and things such as the casino and anything you purchase from the on board shops.

What about off the ship?

With ships calling into a variety of ports, it is always exciting arriving and departing by ship and many children will find this fascinating in itself. Once in port you can explore the city or region you have arrived in either by taking one of the trips offered by the cruise line or by going under your own steam on a family adventure. This is worth some planning ahead to avoid any travel hassle to get to where you want to go.

Some ships sailing from Florida may call at private islands owned by the cruise companies offering a wide range of beach based activities, something that kids will enjoy. You may however have problems getting your children away from activities on board.

Packing

Ships themselves do not limit the weight of bags so when sailing from the UK you have no worries about weight limits. For those taking a fly cruise you will be limited by the airline’s policy. However most ships will have facilities such as nappy changing, high chairs and baby products as well as games consoles, books, games and sporting equipment.

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