There’s nothing that makes great memories quite like a family vacation, but when school holidays start looming it can be difficult to muster up the enthusiasm to plan and organise this surprisingly complicated event. But when you book a family cruise in the school holidays, a big chunk of those concerns just vanish instantly. The hassle-free aspect of picking a cruise for your next family holiday is just one piece of the puzzle though. Read on to learn more about the differences between cruise holidays and those on land, plus tips and tricks to get the very best out of your next time at sea as a family.
Why book a school holiday at sea?
Compared to say, a family camping trip or a road trip, cruising can seem like a bit of an extravagant option but that’s only before you start looking a little closer. One of the main factors to consider about the cost of a cruise holiday is that pretty much everything is included. Travel, accommodation, basic food and drink, entertainment - it’s all rolled into the price of your cruise fare. There can be a few extras you might pay a little more for, but largely what you see is what you get when it comes to cruise holiday costs.
Another thing that makes cruises ideally suited for family holidays is the way everyone can do their own thing and then come back to hang out and have fun together. On many cruise ships (see our recommendations below) there are a wide range of activities that appeal to every age range, so you can be lounging by the pool while your kids shoot down waterslides or get stuck into arts and crafts at the kids club. The whole family will love cruise activities like mini-golf, rock climbing and bumper cars, so it’s not all about solo fun.
Arguably the most attractive feature of a cruise family holiday (for the parents in particular) is the fact that the whole experience is designed to be so easy. For a start, you get to pack and unpack just once, while still having the chance to see a bunch of different destinations. You don’t have to worry about getting lost while the kids get cranky in the back seat. There’s no need to share driving duties. Travelling is as easy as going to sleep and waking up somewhere new. Meals are not your responsibility! Even entertainment (for you and for your kids) is laid on and you just have to turn up. The youth programs onboard provide children and teenagers with plenty of age-targeted ways to have fun, so you know where they are and you can kick back and just enjoy yourself.
Family cruising tips
The first important tip for anyone planning a family cruise during the school holidays is to book early. There are several different reasons why it’s essential to kick off the cruise booking process early, especially if you’re eyeing up a school holidays cruise. The first and most important reason is that cruises over school holiday dates are very popular and all the best cabins tend to book out very quickly. There’s a genuine risk that you might miss the boat altogether during this busy period unless you book promptly.
Another big reason to get in early is that there are often limited spaces in the youth programmes offered on the cruise. Booking your kids a spot in a youth programme will mean that they always have plenty of fun activities to keep them occupied, they’ll have great opportunities to make new friends, and you’ll have a bit of child-free time to savour the holiday yourself.
This tip may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning anyway: any cruise during the school holidays is going to be brimming with kids. This probably won’t be a huge issue for you if you have children of your own, but it’s still something to be aware of - and remember, if you ever need to retreat from the noise and chaos, almost every cruise ship has an adults-only area where you can unwind and recharge. On the flipside, there will be people on your cruise who don’t have kids of their own and are just looking to relax and enjoy themselves. Do your best to ensure that your children are respectful of others and stick to any rules that the cruise line sets.
Best cruise lines for a school holiday cruise
Not all cruise lines are created equal when it comes to family holiday potential. Very few cruise ships are explicitly child-free but some of the more traditional lines don’t offer very much when it comes to kid-friendly activities and youth programmes. Here are a few of the best cruise lines to consider when planning a family cruise holiday:
Royal Caribbean is among the very best family cruise lines. The lower age limit is 6 months, although for sailings with more than three consecutive sea days the limit goes up to 12 months. Youth and teen programmes onboard their ships cover ages 3-17 and for those a little younger there’s even a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery. Family accommodation options include interconnecting cabins and family staterooms which can sleep up to 6 - these are the kind of cabins that book up fast though, so be quick if you want to secure a great spot for your family to stay. When it comes to mealtimes, Royal Caribbean also stands out. My Family Time Dining has families sitting together and kids meals served within 40 minutes. Once they’re done, cruise staff will collect them for evening activities and adults can savour the rest of the meal at their leisure.
P&O Australia is right up there with Royal Caribbean for family cruisers. 12 months is the lower age limit for P&O, except for some short break cruises which drop the limit to 6 months. P&O Australia actually offers four different youth/teen programmes which allows the cruise line to tailor activities and entertainment very specifically for each age group. Accommodation options include interconnecting, triple and quad cabins but again, the best of these will be snapped up very quickly so make sure you’re the one doing the snapping.
Carnival has some of the best cabin offerings for families along with a broad range of youth programmes. Much like Royal Caribbean and P&O Australia, 12 months is the lower age limit, with a 6 month exception for cruises which depart from and return to Australia. Carnival kids programmes are split into five different age categories, so you can be sure that your children will be able to enjoy activities that suit them. As for accommodation, you can expect to find family suites and interconnecting cabins as well as quad or triple staterooms. The Carnival Legend in particular has an exceptional 53 sets of connecting cabins.
With all that said and done, here’s the real key to a fantastic family cruise holiday: start planning today.