Best cruise destinations for families
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So, you’re thinking of a family cruise. As well as researching which cruise line and ship is best for your family, it’s really important to choose well when it comes to destinations too. After all, you’ll get off the ship most days to explore a new town or city, so it’s worth investing a little bit of time into researching the best destinations so that you can make the best choice.
I like to see visiting a port of call during a cruise as a kind of mini holiday. You can spend just enough time in a place to decide if you want to visit again on a longer holiday. Fancy the sound of Barcelona? Visit on a cruise and you’ll have just enough time to see a couple of the main attractions or take an open-top bus tour around the city. Alternatively, choose a cruise which departs from Barcelona and you can add a couple of nights in a hotel before or after your cruise to make the most of your time there. This idea also works well for discovering destinations that you’ve never considered before. I had no idea what Cartagena was like. But after spending the day there, it’s on my list of places to return to
Top cruise destinations for UK families
The best cruise destinations for UK families include places which you can cruise to from the UK, as well as those which you can easily fly to, to start your cruise.
The Mediterranean is the most popular destination for UK cruisers with children. Whilst you can cruise to the Mediterranean all year round, it’s most popular between April and October when the weather is best. You’ll find a huge selection of ships to choose from for Mediterranean cruises in the summer months. In October, many cruise ships head transatlantic to spend the winter in the Caribbean, returning to the Med for the summer in April.
You can cruise to the Mediterranean from Southampton, heading around Spain and towards Italy. As cruise ships average around 23 miles per hour, a round trip will take approximately two weeks. If you only have a week for your cruise, a good option is to fly to somewhere like Barcelona, Venice or Rome where you can join your cruise ship. This also means that you’re more likely to have good weather throughout the cruise.
There’s so much to see in the Mediterranean. Many of the ports have lovely beaches, great museums and fascinating history. A cruise holiday can be a great way to educate older children with trips to famous European landmarks such as the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Acropolis. For younger ones, a sandy beach with buckets and spades may be all they need.
The top winter cruise destination is, without doubt, the Caribbean thanks to its year-round sunshine. On a huge action-packed cruise ship, it can be tempting to stay on-board and enjoy the water slides, splash parks and pools. Kids may be so busy with the zip lines, rock climbing walls and surfing simulators that they don’t want to leave the ship. On many American-owned cruise ships it is entirely possible to leave kids of most ages on-board in the care of the youth team while you get off and explore, should you wish.
That said, there are an awful lot of activities for families to enjoy together in the Caribbean. Families with younger children will love spending time on the pristine white sandy beaches, building sandcastles and hunting for shells. The clear waters of the Caribbean are ideal for snorkelling. Bring your own full face snorkel masks and you’ll have so much fun looking at the fish, turtles and rays.
There are lots of watersports available to keep older children entertained too or you could head off together on a glass-bottomed boat ride. For something really special, you could even swim with dolphins or go scuba diving. A Caribbean cruise can be as chilled or energetic as you want to make it.
For a first cruise, many families choose to head to Northern Europe. Cruising from the UK is a really convenient way to start your cruise, and from here you’ll find a great choice of mini cruises or week-long holidays visiting some exciting ports of call in Europe.
On our first cruise as a family of four, when Leonie was two and Adam was six months old, we took a cruise from Southampton and visited Bruges, Rotterdam and Hamburg. As babies and toddlers are often happy to be pushed around in a pram, stopping for lunch or to play on a playground, we had a great time exploring.
There’s so much for kids of every age to enjoy on a European cruise, as each city has a fantastic selection of museums and family-friendly attractions. I would say that it’s important to plan each part of your cruise carefully, though. It’s important to research the easiest way to get from the ship to where you want to go.
On our day in Hamburg, we got a taxi from the ship to the city centre with no problems. However, when we tried to get a taxi back to the ship we found that nobody would take us without a car seat as this is actually illegal in Germany (although legal in the UK). After pleading with many taxi drivers and offering a large tip we eventually got back to the ship just in time. If we would have known, we would have made sure we had time to take public transport. You can read more about taking taxis with children over on FamilyTravelPlanet.com.
4. Norwegian Fjords
Norway is another great family cruise destination from the UK, with many ships making round trips from Southampton to the Fjords in seven nights. Whilst you may think that a Norwegian Fjords cruise is all about sitting back and admiring the scenery, that’s not necessarily the case.
In Norway, you can be active in every port, with plenty of hiking and kayaking excursions to choose from. Whilst many of these are only suitable for older children, there are plenty of options for younger ones too. For example, in Bergen, you can take the funicular railway up to the top of the mountain to enjoy a pram-friendly hiking trail through pine woods.
The prices of food, drinks and accommodation in Norway can be eye-wateringly expensive, with a hamburger or sandwich at a café costing around £20 and beer costing £8. A standard hotel room in a central location can easily cost upwards of £200 per night. Therefore, a cruise is the cheapest way to see Norway, as once you’ve paid for the cruise you’ll have very little else to pay for.
To save money on lunch in expensive countries, I usually make up packed lunches from the breakfast buffet with cheese salad rolls, fruit and cakes. This is perfectly acceptable to do (as you’ll be missing the lunch buffet if you’re off the ship all day) and can save lots of money in expensive places like Norway.
For the trip of a lifetime, you could combine a short cruise to the Bahamas from Florida with a few days at Orlando’s theme parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios. There are lots of short three- or four-night cruises available from Florida to the Bahamas, which are ideal to incorporate into a cruise and stay holiday.
One of the best destinations to cruise to in the Bahamas with kids is Royal Caribbean’s private island of CocoCay. Only accessible by cruise ship, this island promises guests their ‘Perfect Day’, whatever their style. You can chill out in a private cabana, swim and snorkel in the crystal clear ocean or enjoy signature cocktails in the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. For active types, CocoCay is home to the Thrill Waterpark, which has the highest water slide in North America. There’s also a 1,600-foot zip line and a helium balloon which rises 450 feet above the island to give the most spectacular views. Younger kids will delight the two splash parks.
Which will you choose?
Choosing the best cruise destination for your family will depend on the age of your children and what you like to do. That said, most places have great options for children of all ages from babies to teens. You just need to plan each day to get the most out of it. For a hassle-free experience you can excursions offered by your cruise line, or you can plan your own days to save money and personalise your trip.