A holiday on a cruise ship can be just the way to tick all of the boxes for fun, adventure, and family time while keeping to a strict budget.
I started cruising when my sons were two and six and we have been hooked ever since.
There are different types of ships for different tastes – so doing a little research before booking is prudent. I am not a fan of the mega ships – but some friends like the vast array of activities, such as rock climbing and ice skating.
The big draw on ships is the kids’ clubs, which have separate age groups. My sons met kids from around the world and especially enjoyed the sea days when they could spend more time there.
Most ships’ clubs are for those between three and seventeen.
Cunard allows babies from six months in the play area with parental supervision. They also have a night nursery for those between twelve and twenty-three months until 11 pm so a parent can enjoy adult company and take in a show.
Carnival, P & O, and Norwegian Cruise Lines start their kids’ clubs at age two.
Most of the cruise lines offer a babysitting service for a fee. Celebrity Cruises includes science and nature with their kids programs and has slumber parties. Most cruise lines, including Costa and Disney, have year round children’s programs. Fred Olsen’s Black Watch and Balmoral only have them during school holidays although the Braemar has a dedicated playroom.
My sons particularly enjoyed the teens’ hangout on the Holland American ships. When we sailed around the Hawaiian Islands the children’s program included Polynesian culture. They learned songs, dances, vocabulary, and fun facts about these islands.
The nannies on the QE2 ship threw a fabulous 7th birthday party for my son with an alligator cake and party favours for the other little passengers. My sons were upset when they reached eighteen and were not in a club anymore. Some ships, like on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, had a group for those in their twenties.
My son is still in touch with some of those young people and catches up with them when back in London.
Make your expectations clear so you and the kids are on the same page. My rule for lunch and dinner is that we meet in the cabin and go to either the dining room or cafeteria together. I mandate their company for at least one afternoon tea each cruise. I give clear instructions about what time and where we are meeting for shore excursions.
I enjoy my boys’ company, but also my alone time reading or snoozing in a deck chair.
Cruises give us relaxing time to bond without the stress that comes with divorce and the diversion of jobs and commitments.
We concentrate on fun and strengthening our relationships with each other. My mum often joined us and cruising is a way to vacation that keeps three generations happy.
Tips for keeping within your budget when cruising with kids :
I do not buy either the alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink packages, instead we drink the free water, tea or coffee.
We enjoy a latte or beer in an atmospheric place on shore as part of the local culture.
We are judicious with shore excursions and choose the ones that are extraordinary. These included a day trip to Lapland to meet Father Christmas, visiting the villages in Cinque de Terre, going to the archaeological sites on Kirkwall, and a day trip to Albania.
In Oslo, we did a city tour for a fraction of the ship’s excursion price once we got off the ship. In other places such as Croatia, we walked on the city wall and soaked up the culture without a formal tour.
If you enjoy your cruise, consider booking another one while still on board for an additional discount.
We stick to mainly two cruise lines for the perks of being in a loyalty program. The discounts are larger and after a long haul flight, I enjoy being able to board a little earlier.
The beauty of ships’ loyalty programs as opposed to airlines’ ones, is that you keep your status. One you have sailed a certain amount of days, you never lose it, but only go up in the program.
With the airlines, your status is dependent upon how many miles you accrued the year before, and ships are what you have sailed during your life, not past the year.
There are specialist cruise booking sites that compare prices and give good deals. I book with cruise lines directly and get their e-mails regarding specials.
Travel agents can look out for cruise sales and last minute price reductions. I book early and get the best fares. Having a third or fourth person in a cabin brings their fares down drastically. I book early for 2 for the price of one specials, such as on the river cruises.
Two single women I met live in the vicinity of Southampton. They keep a bag packed and call the various cruise lines every few days for a last minute cancellation. They cruise for next to nothing. What a life!
Wendi Schuller is a published author who has conducted classes on various subjects. She draws upon her knowledge as a nurse, Neuro-Linguistic Programmer (NLP), and hypnotherapist, providing a blueprint to guide women through this difficult transition. Schuller hired an attorney for a court divorce, but decided to go the collaborative route instead and has worked with a mediator post-divorce.
Author of The Woman’s Holistic Guide to Divorce