Cruising with kids no longer means joining the hordes on three-star ships. Luxury cruise lines are coming on board with a range of new children’s facilities. Louise Goldsbury explores some of the best in luxury family cruising.
What could be more luxurious than a holiday where all meals, entertainment, transportation, accommodation (and often, free child care and butlers) are rolled into one; where the destination changes from city to village to private island, with no effort required? The concept of cruising is as family-friendly as it gets, and finally, an increasing number of five-star ships are welcoming all ages.
By stepping up to all-inclusive status this year, Crystal has instantly become more attractive for families. Junior cruisers can now grab themselves a milkshake, pizza or ice-cream from the poolside grill at no extra cost – while parents kick back with complimentary alcohol. .
On selected departures (school holidays and almost all summer sailings), if six full-fare passengers pay in full together – easily done with friends or relatives – the Family Memories program provides shipboard credit of $200 per person, plus a free cabin for the under-17s. Also onboard both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony are supervised activities such as Xbox games, karaoke, cookie-baking, and art and craft projects.
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES
For an educational experience in Tahiti, Paul Gauguin operates Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment for US$299 per child (aged 9-17). One child also sails free when sharing a room with two adults.
The youth program explores the natural wonders of French Polynesia through interactive learning, such as paddling an outrigger canoe, snorkeling classes and discovering how black pearls are cultivated.
All-inclusive fares (regularly slashed by 50 per cent) include all drinks, meals, room service and water-sports on private beaches.
This award-winning German line recently introduced family pricing on the world’s highest rated ship, Europa, and its soon-to-launch sister Europa 2. Effective from April 2013, children under 12 travel free if they share a cabin with two adults paying full price.
For those with babies, you can leave your excess luggage behind because Hapag-Lloyd provides a Baby Welcome package stocked full of nappies, washing lotion, changing mats and bibs. Each family can tailor their own selection of items by filling in a form before departure. The suite will also be furnished as requested, for example, with a ‘baby phone’, cot, high chair or bathtub.
On Europa 2, the company will for the first time offer childcare for toddlers aged two and older (for a fee), as well as an infants area equipped with changing tables and toys. Older children can play in the separate kids and teens clubs, complete with table football, video games and disco.
New kids areas have also been created on its other vessel, Columbus 2, to entice more families. And there is no long wait for the entertainment to begin: on all three ships, a big teddy bear called Käpt’n Knopf welcomes kids as soon as they board the ship.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
The world’s most all-inclusive luxury line, Regent offers the Club Mariner program, which is split into age groups (5-8, 9-12 and 13-17) on selected departures in Europe. On some of these cruises in 2013, predominantly in the Baltic and Mediterranean, kids can sail for a reduced fare. Seven Seas Voyager and Mariner have among the most expansive pool decks found on luxury ships, with outdoor hot tubs and table tennis.
For children interested in traditional sailing, these four-masted replica clipper ships open up a different kind of nautical experience. Older kids and teens are allowed to get involved hands-on, from raising the sails to climbing the mast.
In the absence of dedicated children’s facilities, they tend to hang out with the younger crewmembers and enjoy the sports offered from the ships’ marina platform. Itineraries include a Christmas holiday Caribbean cruise and a July 2013 voyage from Stockholm via St Petersburg.
SEA CLOUD CRUISES
River cruising is another option to consider if you are concerned about seasickness or travelling with a large crowd of passengers. The best non-ocean option for families is River Cloud II in Europe. It’s impossible to get lost on a 44-cabin ship, and although there are no children’s facilities, bicycles and board games are available.
Special discounts have also been released to lure families. Kids (aged up to 13) sail for free when sharing a cabin with their parents, while two teenagers (aged 13-18) can have their own cabin for 65% of the advertised rate. Other discounts are offered a single parent travelling with one or two children. In addition, all shore excursions are free for kids.
A spokesperson said Seabourn attracts families during certain periods, usually on seven-day Med cruises in the northern hemisphere summer. At that time, the line employs youth counsellors to organise ‘mocktail’ parties, scavenger hunts and performances of plays and concerts. The ships also have Wii consoles and board games.
Although it is does not have any kids clubs or child care staff, a spokesperson said Silversea welcomes families and it is becoming “quite common” for multi-generational groups to cruise together.
• Crystal Cruises www.crystalcruises.com
• Paul Gauguin Cruises www.pgcruises.com
• Regent Seven Seas Cruises www.rssc.com/RegentSevenSeasCruises
• Wiltrans International wiltrans.com.au
• Hapag-Lloyd Cruises www.hl-cruises.com
• Seabourn www.seabourn.com
• Sea Cloud Cruises www.seacloud.com
• Silversea www.silversea.com
• Star Clippers www.starclippers.com
• Uniworld Boutique River Cruises www.uniworldcruises.com.au