LAST year, just after Santi turned one, we went on our first proper family holiday. We’d been looking at a Baltic cruise for a while and a few days after Santi was officially named, we were on the phone to P&O to book!
Next year, a couple of months before Santi’s third birthday we’ll be taking to the sea with P&O again … This time with Ezra in tow, who will be coming up to 11 months old. I’m so looking forward to it, and every now and again I count down the months to check how much longer we have to wait.
Cruising isn’t for everyone, and a lot of people have been surprised that we’re so keen to take children on a ship, so I thought I’d let you in on what we loved so much about it and why we’re going again.
The main appeal is the chance to see different places on one holiday and not staying put in one place. It’s been a while since we did a two-week package holiday, and we even made the most of our honeymoon in Cuba to see as much of the country as we could rather than sunning ourselves by a pool.
A few years ago, Stew and I set ourselves a European capital city challenge so we would see places we might not have thought to visit, and the Baltic cruise ticked off a few new cities. Not only that, but we spent a day in St Petersburgh which would be pretty difficult to organise as a holiday on its own and not somewhere you would consider taking a one-year-old.
Next year’s itinerary isn’t quite as varied, but we’ll stop in Spain, Italy and Sardinia over the fortnight. Italy is by far my favourite country and I’ve wanted to visit Sardinia for a while so it’ll be nice to get a taste for it while we’re in Cagliari. We sail from Southampton on the Brittania and will stop at Cadiz, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Naples, Rome, Cagliari and Gibraltar. There was a fairly similar cruise going a bit later on, but it didn’t stop at Naples and I love that part of Italy after spending five months there while in uni.
There’s no chance of getting bored when you wake up in a different city most days of your holiday! It also gives you a chance to see places you might not want to spend more than a day – Monte Carlo, for example, will be nice to experience but isn’t a holiday destination we’d usually consider.
If you tried to plan a two-week holiday with seven different stops you’d be pretty stressed out, especially taking two children across Europe, but as soon as you get on the ship everything is done for you. Your bags are whisked away at the port and appear in your room a couple of hours later, so you can check in without worrying about having everything with you. You’re taken from city to city either while you sleep or enjoy being on the ship, and have the option of exploring alone or taking an organised tour. Having the fortnight set out in terms of where we stop is enough for us, so we like to wander around on our own rather than have to follow a guide.
I’ve been asked a few times if we got bored while on the ship, but believe it or not, life on board is definitely part of the holiday. Ok, so we weren’t able to splash out on more than an inside cabin (cruises stretch our travel budget) so we kind of had to make the most of the open spaces on the rest of the ship. Santi had just started toddling around without needing to hold our hands when we went on the Azura, and absolutely loved exploring the corridors, atrium and outside decks, beaming at everyone who gave him attention. We were mostly found walking around the promenade deck trying to wear him out or pushing the buggy to get him to sleep.
If wandering aimlessly isn’t your thing, there are swimming pools, gyms, spa treatments, sports activities, evening shows and children’s clubs for little ones. Santi was too young last year to be left at the club (they have to be two years old) but there was a nursery room with toys, books and a small soft play area where we could stay with him to play. That opened for a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon, so we usually found ourselves there after lunch.
Next year hopefully he’ll want to join in with the clubs, and maybe even stay in the evening for their film sessions. There’s also a night nursery where you can leave babies and toddlers while you go for a meal or a couple of drinks. It’s manned by two members of staff and you get a pager which they call you on if your little one wakes up. We only used this twice as Santi woke up within an hour both times and we were a bit anxious expecting the buzzer to go off while we were eating so it wasn’t really worth us leaving him there. He enjoyed being up with us so much that it was nice to have him with us, but if you have a sound sleeper it’s a great facility.
A big part of holidays for me (as vain as it sounds) is the chance to wear clothes that aren’t just the usual jeans and t-shirts, and a cruise is the ultimate opportunity to buy lovely new things or dust off pretty dresses you never get to wear. There are casual nights and formal evenings, and if dinner jackets and cocktail dresses aren’t your thing (why ever not?!) you can opt out and eat in the buffet restaurant where the dress code doesn’t apply. But how could you resist dressing a one-year-old up for the captain’s reception?! Ezra won’t be far off the same age Santi was when we went last year, so hopefully these little outfits will fit him.
We found the staff on board the Azura amazing with children – everyone knew Santi’s name within a couple of days (one even called him pizza boy for two weeks as we were at the pizza stand so often), they’d bring a highchair to our table at the restaurant as soon as they saw us walk in, and offer us a choice of purees for him to eat (sometimes sneaking us an extra one for the room). A lot of them have left families at home to work on cruise ships so they love to see children.
If you’re going with babies or toddler you can pre-order formula before boarding, which saves a lot of space in your case, and can have an extra box brought if you run out half way through your holiday. There’s a dedicated children’s buffet served earlier than the evening meal so they don’t have to eat too late and can choose from more familiar looking food than if you’re eating in the restaurants.
I really could rave about our cruise for days, but I don’t want to bore you! If you want to see different places and have a relatively stress-free holiday with little ones I’d really recommend it. We’re hoping to book a Eurocamp holiday for next month so check back to find out if we enjoy that as much (it looks amazing so I’m sure we will!)