ICE CREAM, SUN DAYS

Trav­el­ling with lit­tle kids is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult — but not on this cruise ship

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - CRUISING | FAMILY - MELINDA BROWN­ING

GET YOUR KID’S HAIR BRAIDED WHEN YOU VISIT AN IS­LAND AND VOILA, NO MORE BRUSH­ING FOR THE REST OF THE TRIP!

You’ll love it. There’s free ice cream.” When you’re a three-year-old, or a par­ent of one, rec­om­men­da­tions for a hol­i­day don’t get much bet­ter than that.

My travel agent cousin – also a mum who un­der­stands the, er, joys of trav­el­ling with young kids – had just heard we were about to take an eight­night fam­ily cruise on Car­ni­val Spirit.

They had us at “free un­lim­ited ice cream” but I soon dis­cov­ered there were many more rea­sons to ap­pre­ci­ate cruis­ing with kids.

REA­SON NO. 1: NO AIR­PORT ANGST

Jug­gling a lit­tle one, piles of lug­gage and long queues is a pain – that’s even be­fore you board the flight where, as a par­ent, there’s al­ways the risk your child will turn into “that” kid, the one who has mid-air melt­down, re­fuses to sleep on a long-haul flight or won’t stop kick­ing the seat in front.

On a cruise, there’s none of that. The cus­toms/board­ing process is quick and within 90 min­utes of leav­ing our home in Syd­ney, we’ve found our cabin, had a splash in the wa­ter play area and, you guessed it, had an ice cream.

In short, we’re al­ready in full hol­i­day mode, with al­most none of the usual travel stress.

REA­SON NO. 2: THE FOOD

When I first heard about the end­less ice cream on board, I’ll ad­mit, it did trig­ger alarm bells. Would all the kids’ food on board be junk, I won­dered? Kids’ menus gen­er­ally tend to be quite lim­ited when it comes to healthy op­tions, and kids them­selves can be pretty re­sis­tant to try­ing new things.

I needn’t have wor­ried. In fact, cruis­ing is pretty much per­fect when it comes to kids and food. For starters, most of the din­ing op­tions on board are in­cluded in the fare, so no ag­o­nis­ing over over­priced kids’ meals that may or may not get eaten.

The buf­fet is great – loads of op­tions and kids can see for them­selves what they’re get­ting and it’s in­stant, so less chance of them chang­ing their mind be­tween the or­der and ser­vice. Also, it’s open all day, re­duc­ing the bother of hav­ing to pack emer­gency kids’ snacks for be­tween meals.

The kids’ main din­ing room op­tions (a la carte, and also in­cluded in the fare) are sta­ples like fish and chips and spaghetti bolog­nese – en­sur­ing kids will ac­tu­ally eat them – but the sides of steamed ve­g­ies are an ex­cel­lent op­tion, al­le­vi­at­ing my con­cerns of a week of junk.

For adults, the main din­ing room menu is var­ied enough to keep a week-long cruise in­ter­est­ing, with daily themed spe­cials (themed cock­tails too, though they’re ex­tra).

For an even fancier din­ner, there’s also the fine din­ing restau­rant, Nou­veau – there’s an ex­tra charge but the food is top notch.

REA­SON NO. 3: THE TOWEL AN­I­MALS

Ele­phants, mon­keys and oc­to­pus, oh my. Who needs toys when you get a new “friend” de­liv­ered to your room every day? It’s not just house­keep­ing staff who can cre­ate some­thing from noth­ing to make kids smile, though. The pool deck staff are also mae­stros of the towel an­i­mals, and even run demos to show you how to DIY.

One of the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­phers hands my daugh­ter a flower folded from an old daily pro­gram dis­trib­uted around the ship.

Then there’s our waiter (I say “our” waiter, be­cause we get the same restau­rant staff al­lo­cated to us every night, which is awe­some for not hav­ing to re-ex­plain that my picky kid would like a side of just broc­coli, thank you) who, at the first sign of a three-year-old melt­down, crafts a mouse from a nap­kin in sec­onds.

It’s the per­fect dis­trac­tion and lets ev­ery­one get on with their meal. Now that’s real magic.

REA­SON NO. 4: IS­LAND TIME

There’s wa­ter, there’s sand – it’s every kid’s dream come true. And ar­riv­ing

to a new trop­i­cal is­land every day without a long flight or drive is every par­ent’s dream come true.

We spend three days at three is­land stops – the Isle of Pines, Li­fou and Noumea. There’s the op­tion to join guided tours, but when you’ve got a lit­tle one, the Isle of Pines and Li­fou lend them­selves to just hang­ing out on the beach and tak­ing turns to head out for a snorkel (hire your snorkel on board and bring it with you).

For Li­fou, a pre-booked pass lets us snorkel at Jinek Bay Ma­rine Re­serve, a lit­tle hike from the main beach area, but the snorkelling is good for such a pop­u­lar tourist spot.

For us, though, the high­light of our is­land days was at Amedee Is­land, a day trip from Noumea.

We take a boat trans­fer to the is­land, score sun lounges on the beach, snorkel with tur­tles, take a glass-bot­tom boat tour, tuck into a mas­sive buf­fet lunch where the kids dance with the is­land mu­si­cians, check out the views from the light­house and send a post­card from the small­est post of­fice in the world.

REA­SON NO. 5: NO HAIR BRUSH­ING

Get your kid’s hair braided when you visit an is­land (about $10, and Aus­tralian cur­rency is ac­cepted) and voila, no more brush­ing their hair for the rest of the trip! If your kid is like ours and would rather do any­thing than get their hair brushed, that’s a hol­i­day right there.

REA­SON NO. 6: YOU GET TO DO THE FUN STUFF

It’s not that you can’t head along to the Mad Hat­ter’s Tea Party (a themed high tea with Alice in Won­der­land char­ac­ters) or the Dr Seuss break­fast (green eggs and ham, any­one?) if you’re not trav­el­ling with a kid, but it makes it all the more fun when you have one with you to see their eyes light up at the crazy cakes and watch them freak out over the larger-thanlife Thing One and Thing Two.

Many of the op­tional ac­tiv­i­ties on board are aimed at fam­i­lies – the Build-A-Bear work­shop is a par­tic­u­lar hit with Miss Three – while the kids (and kidults) em­brace the dress-ups for ’80s rock’n’roll, “el­e­gant” and is­land nights. Many of the early evening per­for­mances in the main theatre are fam­ily-friendly, too. For mums and dads who don’t get out too much, it’s a real treat to able to have a nice meal, catch some live mu­sic and still be only five min­utes from “home” should a quick exit be nec­es­sary.

Speak­ing of treats, a con­fes­sion: by the end of the week I look for­ward to my daily soft-serve fix as much as my three-year-old. As with cruis­ing, it’s not just the kids who’ll get hooked.

THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF CAR­NI­VAL CRUISE

CAR­NI­VAL SPIRIT RUNS REG­U­LAR PA­CIFIC IS­LANDS CRUISES. AN EIGHT-NIGHT CRUISE FROM SYD­NEY DE­PART­ING FEB­RU­ARY 27, 2019, STARTS FROM $849 A PER­SON, TWIN SHARE. CAR­NI­VAL.COM.AU

PIC­TURES: CAR­NI­VAL CRUISE LINE, VITTORIO MARCHI

Kids squeal­ing in wa­ter play, or wide-eyed at the Dr Seuss break­fast – fun aboard Car­ni­val Spirit is a par­ent’s de­light too.

DR SEUSS BREAK­FAST

CAR­NI­VAL SPIRIT

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