It’s no secret Australians have a love affair with cruising; this summer, 38 ships have sailed in our waters, with eight ships making their maiden voyage. There’s something so mesmerising about being out on the open ocean and, in terms of a holiday, you’ve got the choice of doing as many on-board activities as you fancy -- or nothing at all.
But when it comes to travelling with your children, are cruise ships really the best option for families? As a mother of three boys, two of whom have been known to suffer from sea sickness even when the ocean is smooth as glass, I’ve come to the happy conclusion that it really is the easiest, most exciting way to travel with your little darlings.
The reasons are numerous but while some parents will immediately fall in love with these words: 'Kids Club', others will love the simplicity of catapulting your family into another world. Remember, cruise ships are floating cities and there are never-ending ways to keep your children incredibly busy and fulfilled.
My family and I were guests of the Carnival Spirit which is known as the ‘fun ship’ and, right away, we were thrilled to see so many families on-board. Carnival Vice President, Australia Jennifer Vandekreeke turned to me and said “You know, you’ll hardly see your kids this trip.” I must have looked horrified because she followed up with, “This might be the first time your children have had complete independence on a family holiday. Remember, kids need a break from their parents as much as parents might need a little break from the constant activity of children.”
By independence, Vandekreeke was referring to the fact that kids have their own ID which doubles as a room key (as well as the option to present their card to a barman for ‘endless bubbles” -- soft drinks) worn with a lanyard around their necks. They can wander around the ship freely, knowing that they can let themselves in and out of their cabin, and in and out of kids club as they choose.
There are over 12 decks of fun including a fitness centre, sports court, spa, mini golf, three swimming pools, youth programs, a child-free Serenity Retreat and the Green Thunder waterslide -- the biggest cruise ship waterslide in the world -- as well as a water park ‘SplashZone.’
Food Glorious Food
In the eyes of children, one of the most exciting things on-board is the food -- 24 hour pizza and ice-cream (self-serve-soft-serve = kid heaven.) The buffet at the La Player restaurant really did cater to every taste so even your fussiest eater will be satisfied; roast dinners, Indian delights, seafood, hamburgers with delicious spicy French Fries and a fantastic dessert bar starring salted caramel cheesecakes, strawberry shortcakes, fruit salad, chocolate mousse --- the list goes on and, of course, the kids wanted to taste everything in sight.
There is also a fantastic salad bar but, strangely enough, I never saw anybody queuing in that section. The only thing I found slightly unbearable was the waste. Several vacant tables were left with half-full plates of food -- eyes are always bigger than stomachs, no? At night we dined at the Empire Restaurant which was literally five star quality, yet apart from the food the kids loved the fun-loving staff. Once a night the wait staff dance and sing and invite the kids to join them; they absolutely loved it. They also loved the Mexican breakfasts at the Blue Iguana with their incredible burritos -- Mexican scrambled eggs, crunchy hash browns, salad, salsa, guacamole all combined in a delicious wrap or a taco.
The facilities on-board Carnival Spirit are just incredible; the Kids club is organised into age groups and gives mums and dads a chance to relax. There’s a special section of the ship called Serenity which is reserved for 18-plus and it was simply heaven, with its own pool, hammocks, and a bar. Tip: for Serenity, you’ll need to get there early to grab the best seats.
Apart from Kids Club, which has a huge list of activities from scavenger hunts and magic shows for the younger kids to video games and nightly youth meetings for the older kids, there is so much to do on-board my kids didn’t spend much time in the Kids Club at all. Instead, they preferred to play mini golf, soccer, basketball and table tennis. Or, they’d be in one of the two swimming pools, hanging out with friends in the spa, splashing around in the waterpark -- or more often than not, sliding down the Green Thunder.
At the end of the day, it was blissful to sit in one of the ‘family pods’ and watch the sunset. There was not a moment when I had to endure my kids saying, “I’m bored” or “What are we doing now?” Every night when we returned to our cabin for bedtime, along with a towel folded into the shape of a creature (one night we had Yoda from Star Wars, holding a light sabre glow stick!) there was a full catalogue outlining the next days’ activities.
The kids loved to go through the catalogue and choose what activities they wanted to do the next day: a Harry Potter trivia morning, watching an artist sculpt something magnificent out of a ginormous ice cube or a craft session. We all loved the nightly concerts at Pharaoh’s Palace where we were treated to incredible performances, from an 80s show with amazing Michael Jackson covers, to the Hasbro Game Show, where board games come to life onstage and kids can join in onstage.
New Caledonia: Mare
Our first port was Mare, New Caledonia where, after a short bus trip we spent the day at the incredible local beach with beautiful crystal clear wate;. The kids could snorkel and swim -- you can hire snorkelling gear on the ship. They also loved exploring all the beach-side huts selling drinks, coconuts, banana pancakes and hot chips. Of course, the girls were all lining up to get their hair braided but the highlight was that magnificent water.
Noumea: Amedee Island
Our second stop was Noumea and Amedee island. Being a Sunday, Noumea was virtually closed so we took a quick boat ride to Amedee Island which was paradise for kids with plenty of snorkelling fun. The kids were delighted to swim alongside the local sea snakes (not dangerous!). Snorkelling gear could be hired for $5 at the local shop. We enjoyed an incredible buffet lunch featuring French Polynesian food and music and dancing demonstrations by the incredibly beautiful locals. Before we headed back to the Carnival Spirit, the kids spent a good couple of hours jumping from the jetty into the water…bliss!
One thing the kids found magical was waking up in the morning and opening our curtains to see which ‘new beautiful land’ we’d arrived at while we’d been sleeping. Lifou was stunning, as well as educational as we spent the day visiting the local villages and we were given a fascinating lesson in what life is like on the island which is ruled by a ‘chief.’ We visited a large hut that was the equivalent of Parliament House, a stunning Catholic church and then a cooking demonstration that involved filling vine leaves with chicken and vegetables and leaving it cooking underground for half a day.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Port Vila was a definite highlight, despite the incredibly humid December. We caught a shuttle bus to the Male Falls, where a gloriously warm and friendly guide called Robert took us to the waterfalls. Along the way, he showed the kids various ways the local children entertain themselves with ‘toys’ they make from findings in the bush -- an aeroplane fashioned from a reed, leaves as musical instruments. The waterfalls were sheer heaven as we all climbed the rocks to jump into the beautiful water.
Health and Fitness guru Dani Stevens was onboard, motivating passengers to keep fit and healthy. She shot this video with her family which is worth looking at, as it captures how easy cruise ship travelling is for parents.
Top Tips before you board and on embarkation day
Fill out your online check-in early so you don’t have to worry about it again.
Pack extra swimmers, googles and sunscreen and hats -- if you misplace any, you'll have trouble buying in the ports.
Arrive with boarding pass and passports ready to go.
Drop your bags with the luggage team outside the door to the terminal so you don’t have to deal with them as you board but…
Pack the kids’ swimmers in your hand luggage as they’ll want to jump in the pools right away (kids who haven’t been toilet trained can’t swim in pools or water park)
Kids will want to see everything and taste everything they minute they get onboard. Keep reminding them they're going to be on-board for X days so they’ll have plenty of time to see, do and taste everything.
The key spots to check out are: your cabin, the pools, the waterpark and the buffet restaurant
Bring a ribbon to tie to the mailbox outside your cabin door, so the kids can easily find your room.
Attend the Youth Program orientation.
On Carnival Spirit: kids must do’s
Green Thunder races.
Hasbro the Game Show.
Arts and Crafts -- happening every sea day.
Learn how to fold a towel animal.
Mocktails and cocktails at the Alchemy Bar.
Snuggle up as a family in one of the family pods on Deck 10 and watch the sunset.
Fares on Carnival Spirit’s 10-night roundtrip cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu departing Sydney on May 23, 2016, start from $954* per person quad share and $1049* twin share. Price includes accommodation, main meals, and onboard entertainment. Fares valid for sale until March 28, 2016. Book by January 25, 2016 and receive an onboard credit of up to $300 per stateroom.
For more information and bookings see a travel agent, contact Carnival Cruise Line on 13 31 94, or visit www.carnival.com.au
Libby-Jane travelled as a guest of Carnival Cruise Line.