CARIBBEAN BREAKS FOR EVERYONE
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
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.
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