In the past couple of years, I’ve found it hard to come up with vacation ideas that would please everyone in our family (we have three kids ages 12, 13 and 16). The one trip we had never embarked upon was a family cruise, in part because I was concerned about sea sickness and being stuck on a crowded ship with a few thousand strangers. But after listening to several friends who had nothing but good things to report about their cruises, we decided to take the plunge and booked a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean aboard a Carnival ship called Glory.
When we arrive at the dock in Florida, we could hardly believe the size of the Glory. It seemed to rise like a majestic small city out of the water.
After checking in, we worked our way through the people milling about the ship (admiring the facilities like the outdoor pools) as we made our way to our cabins.
Maybe it is the doll-house-loving kid in me, but I adored our postage-stamp size rooms. We had booked inside cabins (no ocean view or balcony) in order to keep the costs down. But small didn’t mean cramped — the rooms were both comfortable and functional. I had use of a lovely make-up area, with a lighted mirror and a small hairdryer stashed in a cubby-sized drawer. We had a king-size bed and tiny bathroom. The kids’ room next door was identical except it had two twin beds on the floor and a third bed that folded down from the wall. There wasn’t very much space for drawers or closets so it’s a good idea to pack lightly.
During the day, my husband and I spent a great deal of time lounging around the pool or hot tub. Our kids had each enrolled in free, on-board camps, which were available for toddlers (2-5 years), juniors (6-8 years), intermediate (9-12 years) and teens up to 17. The activities included crafts, games, scavenger hunts, talent shows, volleyball, basketball, outdoor water slides, playing shuffle board, and much more.
We had been warned by experienced cruisers that our kids would have so many opportunities for fun that we would rarely see them. This turned out to be true. I would see my son run by with a gang of kids he’d met, or cross paths with our younger daughter (with her face painted and a new prize in her hand) as she followed her camp counselor and ship friends to a new location. Our teenage daughter divided her days between camp activities and spending time with us. In fact, the kids’ independence and obvious love of their newfound freedom in a safe and controlled environment was one of several pleasant surprises.
The ship also boasted karaoke clubs, a piano bar, live stage shows, a fitness room and spa, a casino, a wine bar, a library, gift shops and lots of other things we probably didn’t discover during the week.
In the evenings, we would either go to a restaurant or grab a light meal at one of several casual food places (buffet, 24-hour pizza counter, sandwich counter, etc.). Two nights were designated “formal dress” and we, decked out in our best outfits, loved mingling with the other passengers who wore everything from long gowns to sundresses.
We spent some days getting off the ship to explore the islands and exposing the kids to these new cultures. Our first excursion was a four-hour trip to Nassau in the Bahamas. Instead of signing up for the cruise’s more expensive tour, we found our own taxi and headed over to a beach near the gigantic Atlantis Hotel resort. We spent hours swimming in turquoise waters and soaking up the warm sunshine.
The next stop was St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The highlight was snorkelling at Trunk Bay, an environmentally-protected coral reef and white sandy beach consistently voted one of the 10 best beaches in the world.
As our high seas adventure drew to a close, all five of us agreed that we wanted to come back for more. We all loved the plethora of activities, food, places to visit and things to do on the ship and the islands. In fact, we voted this our best family vacation to date. What’s not to love about boarding a floating city designed to meet your every need and being taken to exotic islands where you can do as you please?
And judging from the number of repeat cruisers we met (some having done 20 or 30 cruises), it appears that cruising becomes addictive. When is our next cruise, you ask? Well, we’ve booked one this spring and a second one next summer. After that, well, we’ll have to see…
How to plan a family cruise
It can be daunting to plan a family cruise simply because there are so many different companies, departure points and ports of call (the places you’ll visit) from which to choose.
Here are tips to make the process easier:
Booking a cruise:
You can either book a trip directly with the cruise line or use a second party, such as a travel agent or website. When booking directly, be sure to inquire about all price discounts. For example, cruise lines sometimes offer price reductions for repeat cruisers or those who’ve cruised the same line more than once. There are often reductions for booking early, for military personnel, and price breaks for Canadians. Booking directly with the cruise line means they must take care of any problems that might arise (such as delays due to bad weather). If you book through a second party, such as a travel website, they are responsible for taking care of your needs if something goes wrong.
Choosing a departure point:
Florida has several points of departure but if you don’t want to add on the costs of flying or the time needed to drive south, you can book cruises leaving from places closer to Montreal such as New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.
What to budget:
The average cruise costs between $70 to $100 per-day, per-person. In our case, the total cost was $3,200 U.S. which included all taxes, tips and service fees — a real plus as you don’t have to worry about things like daily restaurant bills. The price included the cost of two cabins (one for the kids, one for us) but no items such as alcoholic beverages or excursions (trips to various islands). Our ship would take us from Port Canaveral, Florida to Nassau in the Bahamas, as well as to the islands of St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
Where to gather information:
The best way to get started is to visit one of several informative websites to get preliminary information, write down all questions and then call the cruise lines or a travel agent for more information.