Give my children a sandy beach to dig in and waves to jump over on a moderately sunny day, and they are as happy as a girl of 12 and a nine-year-old boy can be. The countryside enthrals them too, especially if there are trees to climb or conkers to collect. This summer, though, we broadened our horizons, embarking on our first full-on family cruise.
The children had been begging to go on a cruise ever since they found out there were deck-top swimming pools and all-day eating opportunities, including free ice cream. What they hadn’t realised was that Mummy and Daddy saw Costa Cruises’ Eastern Mediterranean cruise as an opportunity to experience some of the most interesting cities in the world – including Venice, Istanbul and Dubrovnik in Croatia – and all in just one week.
We’ve always avoided city breaks, based on the bitter experience that not even the Egyptian mummies in the British Museum can hold the children’s attention for more than 15 minutes before they are inquiring where the nearest McDonald’s might be. But we felt that the double whammy of open-air deck-top swimming pools in guaranteed sunshine plus the opportunity to visit a different country virtually every day would hold their attention. And we were right.
After inspecting our family-sized cabin with its private balcony, we checked out the Costa Serena’s four swimming pools – one with a long corkscrew slide – located the chocolate bar serving fruit dipped in a chocolate fountain, and ate large slices of pizza at the all-day pizzeria. But as the ship actually set sail, we were out on deck, enjoying one of the best views of Venice money can buy. Our huge ship sailed serenely past St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace, although Georgia was more interested in the pretty bridges over the canals and Henry tried to spot the church featured in one of the Indiana Jones films.
Cruising Italian style, as Costa calls it, means cruising with families – mostly Italian – in an informal, Italian, way. This translates into two deck-top swimming pools packed with children next to an outdoor stage where passengers of all ages are encouraged to join in crazy, Continental-style, organised games. Being typically British, I couldn’t understand why the Italians found these so hilarious, but at least it meant nobody was ever going to complain that our children were noisy. There was also a very good toddlers’ pool that was gated and partially shaded with a small softplay area, plus another pool for adults far from the hubbub of the outdoor stage.
There are Costa Kids Programmes for children aged three to 17 – separated into age groups – and as well two large rooms for arts and crafts, games and computers, tournaments on the sports deck, and evening parties. All staff throughout the ship speak excellent English, so young British children should feel happy and secure. Teenagers, or self-conscious 12-year-old girls, on the other hand, might not want to spend time with other children they can’t understand – at least Georgia didn’t. This wasn’t a problem though, because with only one day spent solely at sea, there was a new destination to explore every day – as well as breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, the midnight feast and evening entertainment to fit in.
I found Bari, near the heel of Italy, the best surprise of the itinerary. The old town is a picturesque maze of narrow streets, with ancient churches and a castle, all just a short walk from the port. Nick and Henry loved the buzz of Istanbul, especially the colourful Grand Bazaar and awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine basilica and now a museum, while Georgia was astonished by the beauty of Dubrovnik. Croatia is now on her holiday wish list.
So our first family cruise was a roaring success, despite the August heat – mainly because we finished so many wonderful cities in a week while still being able to relax by the pool. Our very favourite day was spent at Katakolon, in Greece. While 30 coachloads of passengers shot off to explore the ruins of Olympia, we spent the morning on the beach. The children splashed in and out of the sea and we picnicked on pizza from the ship, read our books and soaked up the sun. It was just a pity we didn’t have buckets and spades.
Read more about family cruise holidays, including hand-picked family-friendly cruises and expert tips.