A – Z Of Family Cruising – H to P

 H - P

H is for Hand Washing and High Ropes Courses

Hand washing is key to a healthy, happy cruise. Cruise ships sometimes get a bad reputation for sickness and tummy bugs like Norovirus and when you have thousands of people in close proximity then illnesses can happen and spread quickly. That said we’ve never suffered on board and there are simple steps you can take to keep your family safe. Regular hand washing using lots of hot water and soap is the easiest way to tackle the germs, particularly after using the toilet or ahead of visiting the buffet to eat. There is also antibacterial hand gel available outside every restaurant and most bars – look out for the smiley staff shouting washy washy! Be sure to use it when it’s available but there is really no substitute for good old fashioned soap and hot water. If you do fall foul of a bug be sure to stay in your cabin and call the medical centre for advice on what to do to stay safe and avoid spreading it to others.

Feeling active and brave? Some Carnival ships feature a High Ropes Course, suspended many feet above the top deck. Guests with a head for heights can harness up and take to the ropes, traversing obstacles and balancing high above the deck below. We’ve never quite been brave enough but it did look like a lot of fun!

I is for Ice Cream and Ice Skating

Ice cream is an essential ingredient to family holidays and the good news is most of the American cruise lines include free, unlimited self serve ice cream or frozen yoghurt. The dispensing machines are generally found on the pool deck. It’s also often served free of charge in the main dining room and sometimes in the buffet. If your ship doesn’t offer it for free, don’t worry there will be an ice cream shop on board serving high quality branded ice creams, like Ben n Jerry’s for a small fee.

Several of the larger Royal Caribbean ships have ice rinks which are used for spectacular ice shows delivered by highly trained professionals performing amazing stunt-filled shows – imagine the TV show Dancing on Ice performed on a rocking ship, its quite an incredible sight. When not in use for shows the rink is often open for public skating sessions where you can take to the ice and discover your inner Torvil and Dean! Both the ice shows and skating sessions are free of charge but you often have to pick up tickets in advance once on board as capacity is limited.

J is for Jacuzzi

Jacuzzis are a feature on all cruise ships. Some have as many as 20 spread across the top decks or nestled away in a quiet zone such as the spa. They’re a bubbling, warm oasis to relax and enjoy and are particularly good with a cocktail in hand. They’re usually adult only however some of the larger family ships even have slightly cooler family jacuzzi’s situated around the kids pools.

K is for Kids Club, Kids Tea and Kettles

Kids Clubs are one of the highlights of family cruising! Choose your cruise line carefully and you’ll benefit from some of the best child care facilities imaginable at sea. The clubs are divided into age appropriate groups and usually have their own dedicated facilities with play areas, splash pools, sometimes even cookery clubs, science labs and theatres. The clubs open for two or three sessions a day including an evening session till approx 11pm, allowing parents to enjoy an occasional romantic meal for two while the little ones are entertained with PJ Movie nights.

It’s worth noting that very few cruise lines offer child care for under 3’s or those still in nappies included in the cruise fare but some such as Royal Caribbean do offer a Royal Babies and Tots creche service at extra charge and P&O do allow 2 year olds in their kids clubs. Be sure to do your research to ensure you don’t have a disappointed toddler on your hands.

Our favourite family friendly cruise lines include Royal Caribbean, NCL and Carnival. We’ve not yet sailed P&O but their facilities and staff are supposed to be incredible so our 7 year old is looking forward to sampling that in a few weeks time, especially the promise of playing on a PS4! Children sail free on MSC and are heavily discounted on NCL. Most other lines offer a third and fourth person discount for children sharing your cabin.

Kids Tea is another fabulous cruise concept and is served each evening in the buffet, usually from around 5pm. It features a range of family favourites from chicken nuggets to pizza, pasta to hot dogs and jelly and ice cream along with some healthy options too. Kids Club staff take your children and supervise them so you could make the most of the opportunity and book a kid free romantic meal for two. Alternatively If you want your children to join you for dinner in the main dining room for a family meal, don’t worry there’s always a children’s menu featuring a range of tasty, child friendly dishes too.

The majority of ships sailing from the UK now have tea and coffee making facilities in their cabins and the kettle also comes in handy handy if you are heating bottles etc. On some American and European fly cruises you may find there isn’t a kettle in the room but you can always order room service tea / coffee for the morning to save heading to the buffet for your caffeine fix.

L is for Laundry and Luggage

All parents know just how many clothes a small child can get through, particularly on holiday. Many of the larger ships have a laundry where you can wash your own clothes, alternatively they will offer a laundry service where you fill a bag and leave it with your state room attendant. For a modest fee your clothes will be returned the following day, washed and ironed. Look out for mid cruise laundry specials and discount deals which will be listed in the daily newsletter. Failing that do what we did in Gibraltar and visit M&S and buy more smalls, it was cheaper than the laundry!

Packing cases means your holiday is almost here, but firstly don’t forget to download your luggage labels from the cruise line website check in section. You’ll need to print them and then fold and staple them around the handle so the staff know which cabin to deliver your cases to. Also be sure to add your own identifiable label with your name and phone number as the paper ones are a bit flimsy.

When travelling from Southampton or any other UK port there are no luggage allowance restrictions, which is heaven when travelling with small children. You simply arrive in the car park and waiting porters whisk your cases away. The next time you see them will be outside your cabin. They do occasionally take a little while to arrive so you may want to pack a carry on with sun tan lotion, swimsuits etc. so you can get straight into the holiday mood when you board. Disembarking isn’t quite so straight forward. You have two options, firstly self assist where you basically carry your own luggage off the ship, usually first thing, which can be challenging with lots of cases and kids. The second option is where you request a disembarkation time and are given coloured time specific labels. You’ll need to pack your cases and put them outside your cabin around midnight on the night before you leave. I always find this a challenge as I need things in the morning so be sure to take a large carry on to keep back your essentials. You then disembark at the allotted time and your case will be waiting in the terminal for collection. Do remember If you are on a fly cruise then you’ll be restricted to the usual flight weight restrictions of around 20kg per case so be sure to check before you travel.

One word of caution, cruise lines do randomly scan luggage so be careful that you aren’t taking anything untoward on board. For example you aren’t allowed to bring irons or knives onboard for health and safety reasons. Some cruise lines don’t allow you to take alcohol on board so check with your cruise line before you travel to avoid an embarrassing trip to security.

M is for Muster and Medical Centre

A muster is the name for the safety drill. It’s maritime law that this has to happen ahead of sailing and all passengers must attend, if you board late then you’ll be required to attend a second muster the following day, quite rightly there is no dodging it. The muster will usually happen around 4 or 5pm after boarding. On some ships you need to take your life jackets (which will be stored in your cabin) but tannoy messages will let you know if this is necessary and these are piped into all cabins. Further announcements will be made asking you to make your way to your muster point, this is the point you would go to in a real emergency and where you would go to get in a life boat if that was required. Your muster point is marked on your cruise card and staff will direct you and tick you off a list on arrival. It’s usually fairly quick, the captain says a few words, they demonstrate how to put a life jacket on then sound the emergency signal so you know what it sounds like and then before you know it, its all over and you can start to enjoy your holiday.

Medical Centre – Nobody wants to get sick on holiday but if you are a cruise ship is probably one of the safer places for it to happen. All ships have modern, fully equipped medical centres with nurses and doctors on board. Just be sure you have travel insurance as medical care is not included in the cost of a cruise and medical bills can soon rack up. That said we did visit once when my little boy cut his toe on a beach in St Maarten. It wasn’t serious but a friendly doctor cleaned it up, put a plaster on and sent us on our way without charge.

N is for Night Nursery

If you have a toddler then the Night Nursery may well be one of the best facilities on board. It’s a night time crèche where you can leave your little one sleeping and watched over by highly trained nursery nurses while you sneak away with a pager in hand (in case they wake) and enjoy a meal of hot food, eaten with both hands and accompanied by adult conversation with your husband – for just one or two hours it’s like life before kids! I’ll never forget our first ever cruise on Ocean Village when we discovered this. The time difference meant that our 2 year old son Finn was flat out by 5pm so a bit later on we’d pop him into a very cute cot where he was doted on by staff and return an hour or two later after we’d enjoyed some quality grown up time.

Please note if you have very small children that not all cruise lines offer this facility so do your research ahead to check. P&O offer a night nursery free of charge on family friendly ships and Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have a reasonably priced evening crèche but this must be booked in advance and does get very popular.

O is for On Board Credit and On Line Check In

On Board Credit (OBC) is free spending money that is allocated to your cruise account as an incentive, and will be taken off your final bill before you disembark. Very often you can negotiate some on board credit when booking so be sure to look out for offers online or haggle with your travel agent. It’s not unusual to get up to around £200 worth OBC per cabin, sometimes more. You may also get some on board credit if fuel prices drop after you book or as a loyalty perk for returning customers. Sadly you can’t cash in OBC to take it off with you so be sure to spend it when on board.

Almost all cruise lines require that you check in online ahead of arrival at the port. You’ll need to go on to the cruise line website and then click the manage my booking or cruise personaliser, enter your details and booking reference and you’ll get through to your own personalised account. From here you can book excursions or drink packages, order special treats like champagne on arrival, book speciality restaurants or spa treatments and look at your itinerary. There’ll also be a section for you to enter all your parties passport details and then you’ll be able to print out our e-ticket and luggage labels. You may be asked to put in the details of a credit card which will be associated with your cabin and will be used for all your onboard spend. I’d recommend you use a credit card rather than a debit card as if you use a debit card they may apply limits to your spending or request a hold on amounts in your account.

P is for Passengers, Piano Bars and Ports of Call

Before I took my first cruise I assumed that most cruise passengers would be pensioners who enjoyed fine dining and ball room dancing. This is a common misconception and these days cruise ships are packed with fun loving families, young couples and many senior citizens who are just as young at heart. All the cruise ships we have sailed with had a really diverse mix of passengers and we’ve always found some like minded company on board and met some really interesting people. Passengers come from all classes and walks of life so go with an open mind and don’t be afraid to chat and share tips and advice. You’ll have a ball and possibly make some good friends.

Piano Bars are one of our favourite ways to while away a few hours of the evening on board and nearly all cruise ships will have a dedicated piano bar. This will be home to a talented pianist and vocalist who will often take requests, provided they are written down and wrapped in a dollar or pound note. They’ll work their way through a repertoire of popular hits from The Beatles to Elton John and occasionally the theme song from Titanic – you usually tip them to stop them playing that one!. The songs often turn into mass singalongs, a little like group karaoke. We enjoyed a spectacular nightly rendition of Crocodile Rock on Carnival Breeze delivered by the hugely talented Piano Bob and his collection of sock puppets which were handed out to the audience causing much laughter and silliness. Some of the MSC ships have a fabulous Duelling Piano Bar with two back to back pianos and pianists competing against each other.

Ports of Call are the stops that your ship makes along the route and typically a cruise will stop at 2 or 3 on a 4 night cruise, 4 or 5 on a 7 night holiday and 10 or more on a two week cruise. There are hundreds of cruise ports around the word so you can pick an itinerary to suit you choosing from cultured cities or laid back beaches, Norwegian fjords or even the Arctic Circle. You can research all the ports online ahead of your cruise which will help you decide whether to take an organised excursion or DIY. You can find port guides for almost everywhere on cruisecritic.com or cruise.co.uk and do check out Tom’s Port Guides particularly for American and Caribbean ports if you’re heading that way but also in Europe too. Tom seems to spend his life cruising the world researching and writing port guides – now that seems like my kind of job!

A-Z Of Family Cruising – A to G

 A-Z A-G

I’m about to embark on a cruise with my mother and father in law who have never cruised before and it made me realise that for the uninitiated it can be a daunting experience so I thought it may be helpful to put together an A-Z of family cruising with some particular hints and tips for travelling with kids. As there’s so much to cover I’ll be writing it across a few posts. Here’s my first covering A to G, I hope you find it useful!

A is for Aft and Art

Aft means the back of the ship and aft cabins are the ones on the very rear of the ship usually overlooking the wake behind which is a great spot to look out for dolphins. They often have bigger balconies and for me it’s one of the best positions on board although if you suffer from sea sickness or it’s your first cruise you’d be safer booking a mid ship cabin for more stability.

There’s a lot of wall space on a cruise ship and it’s generally filled with art of all kinds that has been specially commissioned for the ship. Many also have an art gallery where you can splash out if something takes your fancy. They’ll even arrange to have your purchases delivered to your home address.

B is for Breakfast

The choices on board include:

Room service – this will be continental unless you are enjoying the luxury of a suite. Room service is usually free but must be ordered the night before, just fill in the card, specify what you want, the time you want it and it’ll be delivered to your room. Just don’t forget to tip a pound or two to the person delivering it.

A la carte – an absolute must when cruising with kids, it’s the most relaxing way to start the day. Waiter service breakfast is a rarity even in 5 star hotels these days however it is available on almost all but the most basic cruise lines and a very welcome luxury. The choice is incredible, made to order omelettes, eggs any way you want, pastries, full English or American, piping hot coffee or tea, pancakes, French toast, waffles, juices, fruit, cereals or even a Buck’s Fizz or Bloody Mary (charged at bar charges) served at your table – absolute heaven! Yes you can have a table to yourselves but don’t be afraid to share as it often reduces any waiting time and you’ll most likely get lots of useful port advice from fellow guests about what to do ashore that day or the next.

Buffet – there’s always a buffet breakfast option on board, food and choice is plentiful and you can pile it high but be warned it can be busy at peak times.

One of the beauties of cruising is you can enjoy two or even all three options on the same day if you wish. I often order a light room service breakfast early so we can enjoy a lazy start to the day before heading to the a la carte just before closing for a hearty brunch.

C is for Cabins, Cruise Cards, Casinos and Celebrity Chefs

This is your room on board and there are cabins to suit all tastes and budgets. They differ slightly from ship to ship but you’ll usually find the following choice on board:

Inside Cabin – these are the most reasonably priced accommodation on board and are situated in the interior of the ship. You won’t have a window so you won’t know what the weather is like when you first wake up however most ships have a channel on the TV which shows a webcam view from the top deck so you can just turn the TV on to see. If you suffer from claustrophobia or sea sicknesses then an inside cabin may not be for you but we’ve stayed in one several times and if I’m honest you get a great nights sleep with no daylight!

Outside Cabin – This is similar to the inside but with a window or porthole this gives you a view of the ocean.

Balcony – This is my personal favourite, an outside room with a private balcony to sit on and enjoy the sunshine and watch the world sail by. If you have small children who like to climb you may want to avoid a balcony or ensure they are never left unsupervised.

Suite – If it’s a special occasion or you can get a good deal you may want to upgrade to a suite. This is a larger cabin, often with a separate living room area and bedroom, a larger balcony and sometimes extra perks such as free drinks, VIP sunbathing areas, priority access to shows and a butler service.

All cabin grades have an en suite bathroom, usually with a shower rather than a bath unless you upgrade to a suite. Some family cabins have two bathrooms or a separate bathroom and toilet.

Families can also book interconnecting cabins or adjoining cabins but please note kids under 16 are not officially allowed in a cabin on their own, there must be a parent allocated to that cabin. We’ve often seen parents book an outside or balcony with a further cabin across the hall. The kids seem to end up staying on the inside while the parents get the sea views!

Many cabins have 3rd or 4th beds ideal for children, these can be sofa beds or bunks that pull down from the ceiling – check the room plans in the brochure to see the exact bed layout. Your cabin steward will make the sofa bed / bunks each evening during the turn down service. It’s worth noting that if you have a third or fourth bunk sometimes you can’t have the main bed configured as a queen – sometimes you just need to be a bit flexible on sleeping arrangements!

If you have a baby or toddler you can usually request a travel cot but they do take up valuable space so you may find a small cabin feels even smaller! Your cabin attendant will be able to provide guard rails for bunks and nets for a balcony if required.

If you are looking to book a family cruise in the school holidays then I highly recommend you book well ahead. There are very limited numbers of cabins on board that have 3rd or 4th beds and some cruise lines even limit the number of kids on board to reflect the capacity of the kids clubs. There is very rarely any last minute family cruise bargains to be had, I always book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Ships are a cash-less experience, you can’t pay in bars or shops with money. When you check in you have to provide a credit or debit card which is linked to your cabin. You’ll have your photo taken and be given a cruise card which doubles as your room key and account card. You use your CruiseCard to pay for anything you purchase on board and to access your room and also when exiting and entering the ship – it’s swiped by security so they know your off ship and more importantly back onboard. You can get the staff to punch a hole in the card enabling you to hang it around your neck on a lanyard which helps keep it safe and can be purchased on board or is sometimes given out free to the children in kids clubs.

All ships have a casino for those who want to have a flutter and as well as numerous varieties of slot machines there are card tables and croupiers. We don’t gamble but if you’re struggling to find the casino just follow your nose as it’s one of the only places within the ship where they welcome smokers.

I’ve previously written an in depth post on celebrity chefs at sea but we’re seeing more and more household names setting up onboard and offering the kind of dining experience you’d usually need a small mortgage for at a fraction of the cost. I’d definitely recommend treating yourselves!

D is for Dining and Drinks

The food choices on board are endless. Most cruise lines have a main dining room, which will offer a la carte lunch on some days and dinner every evening. There’ll probably be a choice of set dining around 6pm or 8pm and you can usually request a table just for your party or opt to share with fellow cruisers. Alternatively many ships now also offer freedom style dining where you can just turn up at whatever time you wish. If a table is free you’ll be allocated it immediately, if not you’ll have a short wait in the bar and you’ll be seated as soon as possible. We love freedom style dining and always opt for this when we can. In my opinion the food and standard of service on board generally surpasses that of any hotel restaurant and the dining room team really do go out of their way to make your cruise special, delighting kids by remembering their names and favourite foods while delivering smiley face ketchup swirls and animals crafted from napkins on a nightly basis.

If you don’t want the formality of a sit down dinner there is always the buffet which will offer a wide selection of dishes from around the world. We adore the authentic curries served throughout the day and there is usually a section of child friendly foods from hot dogs to burgers and pizzas as well as familiar desserts.

If you’re celebrating something special or just want to spoil yourselves then there is always the option to pay a supplement and visit one of the speciality restaurants on board – see S for more information!

Drinks can be expensive at sea especially when they have a captive audience. UK cruise lines are generally more reasonable than the US based lines where a glass of wine can be a painful $10 or more. If you like a drink then you may want to consider an all-inclusive package or a wine package that offers multiple discounted bottles that are available to you in the restaurants. Not all cruise lines offer them but be sure to check and see if it makes financial sense for you. Take it from me the bar bill can be quite a shock when you get your final account at the end of a two week cruise! Most ships also offer unlimited kids soda packages where they usually get a souvenir cup and they too can be great value.

E is for Entertainment and Excursions

Modern cruise ships offer everything from West End style shows such as We Will Rock You through to Cirque du Soleil style performances. We’ve enjoyed some incredible entertainment at sea including an amazing Amy Winehouse tribute act, a high diving spectacular and the Basil Brush show, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. There’s usually a huge theatre on board, often a cinema too and bars are given over to bands, comedians, pianists and trivia quizzes. There really is never a dull moment and you can always find something on board to while away your time on board.

Cruises visit several ports each voyage and you have the option to take an excursion or do it yourself. All cruise lines offer a variety of escorted day trips, usually the highlights of each destination or a coach to a nearby city or attraction. They can be expensive, particularly if you are a family of 3 or more as kids prices generally aren’t hugely discounted but you don’t need to do an official excursion to get the most out of your time ashore. We regularly DIY in port and often this just involves jumping on a shuttle into town or one of the many hop on hop off buses that await cruise passengers just outside the port.

Many of the official excursion itineraries can be done by yourself for far less if you don’t mind jumping a taxi or public transport and paying your own entrance fees. That said we’ve enjoyed some excellent excursions so sometimes it’s worth the investment and we’ll always choose this option if for example the trip involves a ferry ride or transport to harder to reach locations. If you’re planning to DIY please ensure you head back to the ship well ahead of the departure time as if you are late they won’t wait for you and it’ll be your responsibility to get yourself to the next port of call to rejoin the ship!

F is for Facebook, Forums and Food

The internet is an incredible resource and there’s an amazing amount of information on cruising available online. There are some fabulous Facebook groups filled with cruising enthusiasts and experts. One of my favourites is Cruiselovers, a group with over 6000 members who write reviews and blogs, answer questions, give advice, arrange meet ups on land and at sea and share lots of laughter along the way. They really are knowledgable and helpful but it’s a closed group so you’ll need to apply or get an invite to join the forum.

There are many other cruise groups too, just search cruise or a cruise line name in Facebook and you’ll get lots of suggestions. Other favourite resources include web forums such as Cruise.co.uk and CruiseCritic.co.uk Both are packed with thousands of reviews and informative ship specific sections. On the latter you can even sign up to roll calls for your forthcoming cruises so you can chat online with your fellow guests ahead of your trip and arrange to join a meet n mingle on board.

Food as you may have guessed is central to the cruise experience. Be sure to embark on a pre-cruise diet as you’ll most likely eat considerably more than you do at home or on a land based holiday. If breakfast, lunch and dinner doesn’t satisfy then there’s always afternoon tea and cakes, the midnight buffet, unlimited ice cream or a delivery pizza to take the edge off!

G is for Gangway

This is the ramp they position against the ship so you can get off and on. Rather confusingly the gangway changes deck and sides in different ports depending on the sea levels and which way the ship docks. We’ve spent a great deal of time hunting the gangway but generally these are usually well signposted. A word of advice, don’t go dashing off the minute the ship docks and the captain gives the all clear as you’ll end up queuing with half the ship. If you hang back, head up to the top deck to get your bearings and then depart 30 minutes later, you’ll skip off the ship without having to queue.