WATCHING Ezra take his first solo steps, eating pizza in Rome and walking the Ramblas in Barcelona. Family holidays are meant for making memories, and I have plenty from our Mediterranean cruise that will last a lifetime.
Some people have asked me why I’m so keen to take the boys away fairly often, and the answer is just that – it’s quality time that we will remember. When we’re in work and nursery it feels like we’re always rushing around. On holiday we can slow down (as much as possible with two small boys), fall asleep watching a film in the middle of the afternoon, eat ice cream day after day, and just generally reconnect. I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s so true – I came back from our cruise feeling like I knew Santi and Ezra that little bit better.
Yes, there were meltdowns (from me included), arguments with a toddler that wouldn’t eat, and the time I was up on deck at 6am trying desperately to get Ezra back to sleep with only a group of jet-lagged Australians for company, but holidays can’t be perfect and it just adds to the experience.
One of the things that drew us to book a cruise was the chance to see a few different places in one holiday, but without the stress of having to organise the travel in-between. It gives us the combination of a holiday the boys will like, while also allowing me and Stew to indulge our love of visiting random places. When I went on my first cruise a few years ago I was a bit worried the days on board might be a bit dull, but it turns out the sea days are as much a part of the holiday as exploring ashore – there’s so much to do.
I’ll admit, the day we got on the Britannia at Southampton wasn’t a great start – we didn’t get much sleep the night before as Santi had a series of night terrors, so we were more than a bit tired and I was snappy. Luckily, getting our luggage on was a cinch as we stepped out of the car and a man whisked our bags away … they then appeared in our cabin before we even got there as if by magic! So we didn’t have suitcases to contend with, which made life easier, and thankfully there was the loveliest lady at the waiting long who snuck some fast-track passes into our hands so we’d avoid an hour’s wait to check-in … what an angel!
The difficult part came in trying to get an excitable toddler to sit down and listen during the safety talk (it’s mandatory). Let’s just say the rest of the guests in muster point D would probably have been happy to leave me and the screaming child on board in an emergency. I think we’ve learned not to big things up too much in advance – we couldn’t exactly blame Santi for not wanting to sit still as we’d been talking about the ship, the children’s club and swimming pools for months.
Things could only get better … and thankfully they did! The next two days sailing to Gibraltar were a chance to settle in to life on the Britannia, to discover the children’s areas and explore every corner. By the end of the second day most of the waiting staff knew both Santi and Ezra by name, and were hi-fiving them as we walked through the restaurant. By the end of the holiday Santi had even perfected a special fist bump with them! You couldn’t get friendlier staff.
Over the fortnight we had four formal nights, which means dressing in black tie. I’d been looking forward to these as it’s a nice chance to dress up, but at the same time I was convinced it would be a bit of a nightmare trying to get our little wildlings into shirts and bow ties. How wrong I was! By 5pm on the first formal night we were all scrubbed up at the children’s tea, with two handsome little boys ready to party. Santi still asks now and again if it’s a “smart day” so he can wear a shirt.
The children’s tea is fab, by the way. Every night they close off a section of the buffet restaurant especially for youngsters with a different selection of food to the main meal. There’s a bit less of a distraction with fewer people around, and the food is more recognisable to little ones so they’re likely to eat more. Oh, and there’s ice cream … always a winner! It was fab for Ezra as he was just starting to wean onto solid foods so we could try him with lots of different things.
In the days leading up to the cruise we accepted that we’d end up eating in the buffet restaurant most nights as it’s just not fair to expect two young children to sit through a waiter-served three course meal, but we hoped to eat in the main restaurant at least once. We actually managed twice in the end – once just me and Stew, and all of us on my birthday. It was a bit stressful trying to keep the boys entertained, especially as they had to wait a while for their main meals to come, but we survived it!
It’s nice to be able to try something different to eat as you know if you don’t like it there’s always the buffet upstairs. I wasn’t too brave, but I did try a pretzel brownie with salt and vinegar ice cream … that was an experience!
Being in the middle of the sea meant some days were that little bit too cold to spend sitting by the pool – or even going in as the water was freezing! Santi wasn’t put off though and asked every single day if he could go swimming. It was hard to say no to him because he was having so much fun, but at the same time it was far too cold for Ezra and he was getting upset not being able to go in too. Even holidays are a juggling act these days!
Luckily the children’s area on deck had a splash and paddle pool, which was tucked away in a sheltered corner, so it was lovely and warm out of the wind. Santi and Ezra absolutely loved creating dams and then opening them up to let the water flow down the river, sitting in the fountain and filling up buckets with water to carry from the splash pool to a water play table. We loved the comfy chairs where we could relax while watching them playing. There’s a little park in the same area, so it was a perfect place to get away and pass a couple of hours.
Apparently there were 150 children on board, but I think we only ever saw two others using the splash pool … crazy! The only complaint we had about the pools was that there wasn’t a shallow one for little ones, just the splash pool and the main pools which were very deep. It’s a bit of a struggle trying to hold a baby or toddler when you can’t touch the floor yourself!
Talking about the children’s facilities, we made really good use of kids’ club The Reef. We’d either head there after breakfast or dinner, and usually for an hour in the evening to wind down. The play rooms have floor to ceiling windows, so they have lots of natural light and you can look out at the sea while the little ones play with the toys or on the soft play, which was really nice. Just like the splash pool, most days we had the room for the youngest children to ourselves.
You are allowed to leave your children there with staff to supervise, but Santi got upset when we left him there for a little while so we didn’t push it and try it again – it was his holiday too, and he wanted to be with us. It’ll be sad in a few years time when he wants to be left with new friends rather than spend time with us so we wanted to make the most of it. We did manage to leave Ezra sleeping in the night nursery once or twice, but he got unsettled while we tried to move him from there to our cabin so we accepted early on in the fortnight that there would be late nights and lie-ins throughout the holiday. We had to wake them up a couple of times so we could go ashore!
Some of the activities might not have been intended for children, but we still made the most of them. Shuffleboard, quoits, table tennis, pool … we had a go at them all! Ezra enjoyed the freedom of crawling around on the quieter decks, while Santi tried his hand at new sports and shouted “ball boy” at anyone who happened to walk past.
I think he unnerved some people who were trying to play as he’d watch them so intently and ask questions about the game that they’d end up stopping and walking away!
Lots of people have asked us about the safety of a cruise with two young children, worried about them climbing over the edge or being able to fall through barriers. There’s no need to be concerned. The public areas have high sides and glass panels rather than bars along the sides, so little ones can see out but can’t slip through. We booked an inside cabin to avoid the worry of a balcony, which meant we had a bit less space in our room, but it was plenty big enough for the four of us.
Ezra was like a busy bee crawling around the place super fast and we could let him go off ahead to explore as we knew he was safe enough. We were more concerned about someone standing on him as he kept popping out from behind furniture!
Two weeks away from home seems like such a long time, but I really wasn’t ready for the holiday to be over. I loved being able to come and go as we pleased, to pick up a cup of tea and drink it overlooking the sea and hear the boys giggle together over something ridiculous (like the noise a toilet door made when it was closing). Instead of spending the evening quickly having tea and watching something on TV before bed we were wandering around the decks, having a look in the shops and playing in the children’s clubs – all while wearing nice holiday outfits.
We even made it to one show – a pair of acrobats. This was possibly one of the highlights of the holiday for me because Santi was so looking forward to it, but as soon as they started he wanted to leave. All we had was “have they done their show yet? Why are they upside down?” and the classic “why is that man naked?” … really loud and as the music stopped.
We’re already looking at cruises for next year (well, we started on the way home from this one!) and really can’t recommend it enough as a family holiday … and no, we weren’t sent to review it or paid b P&O!
Just to finish off, here are a few more of my favourite photos from on board. There will be separate posts on the destinations to come, so keep an eye out!