Why a cruise ship is your perfect next family holiday
Over and over again I find myself in the position of having to defend my decision to do much of my travel on cruise ships. Despite some dramatic changes over the last couple of years in the industry in an effort to rejuvenate the product, cruises still tend to get a lot of bad rep. Too boring, some will say. Too little freedom. Too many queues, too many old people, too many drunk people, too many children. And of course, not enough time in a destination.
Some of the arguments might actually hold some truth and I can partly relate as to why people are thinking these things about cruises. Funnily enough, those with the strongest negative opinions usually have never cruised before and can hardly make an informed decision.
So I beg to differ. In my opinion, cruises are a fantastic form of travel if you want to achieve certain goals. And no, these goals do not necessarily have to be getting drunk at 12pm on the pool deck on cheap cocktails and bad salsa rhythms.
Cruising can be a very satisfying form of travel. It can be convenient, luxurious, relaxing. But it can also be exciting, challenging, and interesting. When you are not travelling on your own or with just your partner, in other words if you have children in tow, then cruising might be your perfect alternative. When you travel in a group of people, let’s say your family, you have a variety of interests, skills, challenges. The beauty of cruises is that they are extremely versatile and can offer a very enjoyable outcome for all participants.
Family travel: travelling with children, or travelling for children?
I am strong defender of family travel. My parents saved all their income in order for us five to go on annual family vacations. We didn’t have a lot of luxuries back then, but our annual trip to the south of Europe is what in the end shaped me as a person. Travel can not only be the best teacher, it can also be the glue that holds together children and parents.
However, I believe that many people are doing it wrong. Family travel in my view is not something you do for your children. Yes, they are part of the picture, but they are not the main players. Back when I was little nobody asked me about my opinions, let me decide the plans for the day, let me pick the restaurant for family dinner. I was part of the dynamic but it was my parents who benefitted most of their holidays.
Yet, many times I see parents making compromises for the sake of their children. Compromises are not bad per se, but they mean usually that you need give something up in order to keep everybody baseline happy.
Now, this is where cruises come into play. In my experience, cruises allow you to have a wonderful family holiday, without making compromises. How so?
Family-friendly cruises are on trend
More and more cruise companies have recently realised how well they are able to cater for families. Unless your children are still in nappies they are more than welcome to spend time at the kids club. Unlike in some exotic locations you will get well trained staff and top-notch equipment, a varied program suitable for different age groups, and opening times that give you maximum freedom.
Not that I don’t want to spend time with my children when on holidays, but it is during port days that the cruise kids club will show its real beauty: Parents are allowed to leave the ship to go ashore for excursions, while the kids stay back in the kids club to have the time of their lives. Trust me, I have tried to take the kids onshore with me while stopping in Lifou Island, and it was a total disaster that none of us enjoyed.
Rome in two days means for us 40km on our feet in 30C heat. This is not suitable for little kids. Take them with you on excursions to see Pompeii for all you like, but trust me they will not enjoy the wonders of antiquity until they are teenagers or even young adults. They will not take much home, remember any of it, will struggle to comprehend what they just looked at despite your best efforts. I have seen families trying to do that, paying lots of money for the tickets to get the kids onto the excursion bus and into museums, and the kids seemed to hate every single minute of it. Medieval cobblestones are not made for prams, the hot midday sun is not balm for baby’s skin, a museum filled with pottery shards is not a Disneyland.
For this reason alone, cruises work perfectly for us. It allows us to have adult oriented experiences that we can enjoy without being slowed down by tired tiny feet and hungry bellies that refuse the local food.
Since cruise companies have realised the potential in attracting young families, there are now so many different options onboard that will ensure that even sea days will be lots of fun for the younger generation. Yes, there will still be shuffle, bingo and trivia. But shows might take up 80s programs instead of 60s stars, night clubs might be filled with a younger crowd, and show excursion might offer more strenuous and adventurous activities. It pays to check beforehand how well a ship caters for your generation.
It also depends on the ship with what kind of crowd you will be sailing. If you are afraid of being surrounded by drunkards twenty-four seven, check online reviews beforehand. Cruise companies love to sell you drink packages before you sail, as this minimises their administrative work each time they sell you a drink. We have always opted to not buy a drink package, mainly for two reasons: they are overpriced, and they tempt you into starting to drink way earlier in the day than you would do under normal circumstances.
If you are given “free” beer every day, and you are on holidays, wouldn’t you want to make the most of it? My advise is to check beforehand if you are really going to drink as much as you would need to do meet the daily rate of your package, and think about the fact that you are also paying for port days even though you might actually be out and about and won’t have time to drink on the ship at all. In our case, we would have a glass of wine for dinner and a sunset cocktail on the top deck, yet this never met the daily drink package minimum, saving us lots of money and rescuing us from unwanted hangovers the next day.
So ok, you may not be boozing it up on the cruise, but what about everybody else around you? I am yet to find a cruise ship that wouldn’t allow me to separate myself from unwanted fellow passengers. I don’t need to spend time next to people if I don’t want to, there is always a quiet place somewhere else where I can relax and be more comfortable.
On shore days, things can be quite hectic, and I agree. If you sail into port early in the morning and you only have a couple of hours to explore a destination, you might feel rushed and you might think that you don’t really get the chance to explore the place at all. This might be true, and I agree partly.
But with some good preparation you can come up with a plan that will allow you to explore the destination to your heart’s content. There are some marvellous websites on the internet that will explain in detail how you get from the ship to the places that you want to see. You don’t necessarily have to book a shore excursion. Depending on destination, you can easily organise experiences yourself. Sometimes you can even simply walk off the ship, saving you transfer costs and time delays.
To have a great experience, ensure you visit busy attractions early in the morning. Weigh your options: does it make sense to book a shore excursion, or can I do it on my own? In most cases, there is no reason why you need to stick with the cruise ship crowd. You can just disappear in a cloud of dust, while your grey haired fellow passengers are still busy unloading the wheelchair.
And cruises do have their memorable and very unique moments. There are locations that are best experienced from the deck of a ship, with the sun setting on the horizon and flickering lights slowly lighting up along the shoreline. There is the playfulness of jumping dolphins in the stern waves, the starry nights in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Cruises are perfect for many occasions thanks to their versatility and the way they open doors to a number of experiences. You may have dismissed them in the past, but if you have children and still want to have an adult vacation then they should now be on top of your list.