Sail­ing be­tween beach-fringed is­lands makes a great break for par­ents and chil­dren alike. Joanna Booth presents her pick of the best cruise lines in the Car­ib­bean

Herald on Sunday - - CRUISING - — Tele­graph Group Ltd

Whereas you think of the Car­ib­bean’s beaches as an in­vi­ta­tion to re­lax, for your tod­dler or chil­dren they’re one big ad­ven­ture play­ground. Pow­der-soft sand begs to be built into cas­tles, bow­ing palm trees are de­signed for clam­ber­ing up, and that calm, warm sea is em­i­nently splash­able, or for older chil­dren, ideal for snorkelling. The laid-back vibe means there’s no need for for­mal be­hav­iour, and bois­ter­ous tod­dlers and ba­bies will be made wel­come to these idyl­lic is­lands.

Add to that the on-board cruise fa­cil­i­ties from climb­ing walls to wa­ter­slides, and — although a long-haul from New Zealand — you’ve got an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion.

On a cruise, you can visit a few is­lands with very lit­tle faff, which makes the long-haul jour­ney more worth­while. There’s no dis­rup­tion when you move to an­other des­ti­na­tion, no set­tling into a new ho­tel room or bat­tling with do­mes­tic flights — hop off the ship for a dif­fer­ent ad­ven­ture in ev­ery port.

Fa­cil­i­ties do vary, so it’s al­ways worth check­ing be­fore mak­ing a book­ing. While the clas­sic Car­ib­bean sail­ing sea­son runs from De­cem­ber to April, some lines, in­clud­ing Nor­we­gian and Royal Car­ib­bean, have ships sail­ing year-round.

Pre-school fam­i­lies

What can I ex­pect on board?

Royal Car­ib­bean In­ter­na­tional, P&O Cruises and Dis­ney Cruise Line — which all per­mit ba­bies over 6 months to sail with them — will pro­vide free cots in cab­ins, a range of equip­ment, in­clud­ing chang­ing mats and high­chairs, and suit­able food. Nap­pies and wipes can be bought on board (or pre-or­dered on Royal Car­ib­bean), which helps slim down your pack­ing. When it comes to a cabin, chil­dren this age re­quire more space than their size may sug­gest. Con­sider a state room with means to cur­tain off the cot so you don’t have to sit in the dark in the evenings, and if your child naps in the af­ter­noon, book­ing a bal­cony cabin is a no-brainer. Un­like most other lines, Dis­ney fea­tures bath­tubs even in stan­dard cab­ins.

Ba­bies and tod­dlers love wa­ter, but on many cruise lines, there’s a rub — chil­dren in nap­pies aren’t per­mit­ted in the swim­ming pools. The three lines above all have des­ig­nated splash pool ar­eas for those in swim nap­pies. What about child­care?

Ev­ery fam­ily-friendly line op­er­at­ing in the re­gion has free kids’ clubs for this age group — choos­ing a line with age-ap­pro­pri­ate child­care is es­sen­tial. Royal Car­ib­bean has Royal Ba­bies for 6 to 18 months and Royal Tots for 18 to 36 months, where parentat­tended playgroup ses­sions are free and drop-offs charge­able by the hour.

On Dis­ney ships, un­der-3s can at­tend the paid-for It’s A Small World nurs­ery, which stays open from the morn­ing right through un­til 11pm. On Car­ni­val and P&O, the free kids’ clubs start from 2 years. And while the lat­ter doesn’t of­fer day­time su­per­vised child­care for un­der-2s, in the evening a

com­pli­men­tary night nurs­ery caters for those from 6 months to 4 years.

Although chil­dren must be 3 be­fore they can be dropped off at the kids’ clubs on Marella Cruises and Nor­we­gian, these lines both of­fer ses­sions with ac­tiv­i­ties such as singing and sen­sory play for par­ents and ba­bies from 6 months.

Go­ing that ex­tra mile . . .

There’s plenty on board to keep tots en­ter­tained — Dis­ney par­tic­u­larly stands out for older tod­dlers, with its char­ac­ter meet-and-greet ex­pe­ri­ences — it would be a shame to miss ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the Car­ib­bean too. Royal Car­ib­bean’s Pi­rate Trea­sure Hunt in San Juan, Puerto Rico, will be a hit with small swash­buck­lers, and a day at Dis­ney’s pri­vate is­land Cast­away Cay is set up to suit even the small­est beach bum.

Chil­dren from 5 to 12

Are there kids’ clubs on board?

Nor­we­gian’s Splash Academy of­fers ev­ery­thing from cir­cus skills classes to scavenger hunts, and Princess Cruises part­ners the Dis­cov­ery brand for its youth pro­gramme, with ac­tiv­i­ties in­spired by the chan­nel’s hit shows.

Royal Car­ib­bean In­ter­na­tional’s Ad­ven­ture Ocean, Car­ni­val’s Camp Ocean, and Celebrity Cruises’ Fun Fac­tory all of­fer an ac­tion-packed mix of sports, games, arts, crafts, com­pe­ti­tions and themed ac­tiv­i­ties.

All these clubs stay open un­til 10pm, so if you’d like an adult din­ner, you’re sorted. Dis­ney Cruise Line’s Ocea­neer Club keeps go­ing un­til mid­night, and the line gives fam­i­lies com­pli­men­tary phones so par­ents can be con­tacted any­where on the ship. All these lines al­low par­ents to head off to shore while leav­ing the chil­dren in the club.

Any­thing else to keep them en­ter­tained?

Gone are the days when a swim­ming pool was con­sid­ered ap­pro­pri­ate en­ter­tain­ment enough for un­der-12s. There are still plenty of pools — many with thrilling wa­ter­slides — but that’s just the start. Nor­we­gian has laser tag, an elec­tric car race­track and tan­dem wa­ter­slides. Marella has mini-golf and a climb­ing wall. And Car­ni­val runs the gamut for young cruis­ers, from a builda-bear work­shop and themed Seuss at Sea ac­tiv­i­ties for lit­tle ones, to a host of ex­pe­ri­ences for trick­ier tweens.

Dis­ney and Royal Car­ib­bean have ac­tiv­i­ties where chil­dren can meet their favourite char­ac­ters.

Will we all fit in one cabin?

A lit­tle ex­tra space will make every­one feel more com­fort­able. Nor­we­gian and Royal Car­ib­bean of­fer fam­ily state­rooms and mini-suites with ex­tra drop-down or con­vert­ible beds, com­fort­ably sleep­ing a fam­ily of four. Car­ni­val’s Fam­ily Har­bor cab­ins sleep up to five, and also in­clude com­pli­men­tary ac­cess to a spe­cial lounge with TVs and con­sole games. Most lines also of­fer in­ter­con­nect­ing state­rooms.

Want to keep costs down by book­ing an in­te­rior cabin? Con­sider one of Royal Car­ib­bean’s vir­tual bal­cony cab­ins with real-time, floor-to-ceil­ing dis­plays, or Dis­ney’s mag­i­cal port­holes, where the live video stream cor­re­sponds to the state­room lo­ca­tion and Dis­ney char­ac­ters oc­ca­sion­ally float past.

What if we want to spend time ashore?

Ex­cur­sions based around ac­tiv­i­ties are pop­u­lar for this age group. The Maya, Lost Mayan King­dom ad­ven­ture park in Mex­ico is an op­tion on both Car­ni­val and Nor­we­gian’s Western Car­ib­bean sail­ings. You’ll find wa­ter­slides and zi­plines, plus a splash park and lazy river for those mem­bers who re­quire less adrenal­in­pump­ing ac­tiv­ity. Car­ni­val has plenty to tempt chil­dren when off the ship, in­clud­ing surf lessons in San Juan and river tub­ing in Ocho Rios — both suit­able for over-6s.

Photo / Getty Im­ages The ul­ti­mate high-five for lit­tlies on Cast­away Cay, Dis­ney’s pri­vate is­land. Photo / Kent Phillips, Dis­ney

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