Rookie Cruisers with Kids

You are NOT in the wrong place!

For those of you who don’t know, we own a bell tent hire company. So, you would be forgiven for asking why on earth there is a blog post here about cruising. Well, the answer is simple; while the tents are in hibernation for the Winter, we get to holiday. And, as rookie cruisers (at least with kids), I thought I would just share some of the tips and tricks that we learnt along the way. Before we sailed, I found a lot of the information I was reading conflicting and complicated. It’s absolutely not either of those things, I promise!

Of course, we can’t wait to welcome you all back to the world of camping in the late Spring and over the Summer!

A bit of background

I’m sure there are tricks of the trade that expert cruisers know all about but we’re more of a wing-it-and-hope-for-the-best kind of bunch. Matt and I cruised to Scandinavia before kids but, other than that, we really are novices. We are now a family of 4 including, most importantly, William who is 10 and Penelope who is 6. I don’t know if we booked at the right time but, after comparing prices and perks, we ended up booking a conservatory mini suite on the P&O Iona cruise to Northern Europe (for those – like me – whose pre-GCSE Geography doesn’t stretch that far, that means Hamburg (in our case, Bremerhaven due to a sunken ship), Rotterdam and Bruges), with decent on-board credit for a couple of non-heavy alcohol-drinkers and a couple of coke-lovers.

Tip number 1 – the mini suite was incredible. We felt very lucky and spoilt. It gave us extra room, bubbly, chocolates, complimentary robes and storage for the millions of shoes that you seem to need on a cruise and toys. In hindsight, if we were looking to save money, there were some lovely sea-view rooms with a little extra seating area by the windows (much bigger than I had realised) that would also do the job.

Embarkation day

One of the mini-suite perks is that you get to board for lunch!

Tip number 2 – there are free drinks in the main dining restaurant (MDR) so this is a very good reason to head there! The food was varied and tasty. However, despite every inch of effort from us, our children are pretty plain (Will) and fussy (Penny) eaters. So, with hindsight, we may have been better to go to the buffet restaurant to eat and then saunter down to the MDR to drink.

One of the drawbacks of embarking early is that you may have a bit of a wait for your room and case.

Tip number 3 – take swimming stuff in your hand luggage. There aren’t many guests ready to hop into one of the infinity pools or whirlpools at this point, plus you know that – at this stage – they are still clean! After lunch, we would have loved to be able to have a swim while we waited to set sail (as it was, we were in the pool as we set off and as the sun set which was also fabulous!). Which takes me to…

Tip number 4 – for swimming, there are showers but nowhere really to change. Take sliders and onesies for the children. We didn’t because, as I mentioned, we are fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants level of organisers but I didn’t really enjoy the moans of ‘I’m cold’ from our bare-footed, towel-wrapped children and, in secret, I didn’t blame them!

Main Dining and Celebration Night

Tip number 5 – you know all those little games you pack to keep the children occupied? Learn from us – carry a couple in your pocket or bag (they’re not much use in your cabin)! Alternatively, a little plug for a company that my amazing mum found during Covid (what she desperately wanted to do was play with the children. She couldn’t. So, she made it her life’s work to make sure that they were occupied!). These little 10-minute packages are perfect for taking into the restaurants. All you need is a pen or a small pack of crayons. They have a bit of art, a bit of word puzzling and a bit of free-styling. Perfect for those slightly longer waits to get served.

Since returning, I am obsessed with reading all the social media posts about peoples’ cruises (and jealous!). There is a lot on there about celebration night. So, slight curve ball to…

Tip number 6 – (caveat: I’m talking about our 1 experience on Iona). Most people were dressed in what I would call smart. However, this ranged from full black tie to men in chinos and (open-collared) shirts, and women in sundresses.

We hadn’t eaten lunch on celebration night so we booked for an early dinner with the children (5.30) with a view to taking in the ‘celebration’ bit afterwards. This was not too early to dress up – there were plenty of people still in their swimmers and plenty of people in their sequins.

And other stuff

In no particular order…

  1. Clothes packing – if, like ours, your children are a bit feral and prone to finding the smallest bit of mud to roll in, then cruising is your lucky break. For some reason, our children didn’t need a million, daily changes of clothes like they do on our normal, cottage-style holidays. We packed far too much!
  2. On-shore – you may already have guessed but we are organise-your-own-fun people. Where the ship wasn’t a walkable distance to the town/city centre, there were millions of shuttle buses to take you in. There is a small charge for certain passengers (I don’t understand the saver thing). From there, wherever you are, you can walk, tram, metro, train with ease and for little cost. Plus it’s part of the adventure for the children (and daddies in our case!).
  3. Zoos – zoos in Europe, in our opinion, are amazing (not wanting to get into the politics and ethics) and often subsidised, so very affordable. If in doubt, find the zoo!
  4. On-board internet – this is going to be a controversial one. Caveat: you may not be able to do this because of work, family connection, etc. I understand (we have wonderful business partners who picked up the reigns for the week). However, we did not buy any internet packages. When we were ashore, we used our data as usual. When we were on the ship, I cannot tell you how lovely it was to be ‘unavailable’ to the outside world and so ‘available’ to my family. And, here, I will step off my soap box but I will just say, it was enlightening and something that I am trying to be much more mindful about back in the real world.
  5. What? No internet? – if you choose not to buy the internet packages, never fear. At sea, you want to be in flight mode so that you don’t pick up any extortionate network by accident. You can then connect to the free part of the ship’s wifi which will allow you onto the App where you can access the daily update, book dining and entertainment, get in the virtual queue for dining, and keep an eye on that on-board dosh (handy if you have older children I’m guessing!).
  6. Losing your sea legs – it’s an actual thing – who knew?! We understood – and remembered – about having to ‘find your sea legs’ when you embark. It’s just getting used to the movements of the ship and kind of moving with it, but without realising. With a 6-year-old prone to travel sickness, we had bands, mentos and tablets – none of which we had to use. What people don’t prepare you for (a bit like the things people don’t tell you about being a parent!) is that you may also have to ‘lose your sea legs’. So, if you feel a bit dizzy or out-of-sorts for a day or 2 after your cruise (especially if you are a woman of a certain age and prone to migraines like me), rest assured, you are completely and utterly normal!

And finally…

Would we do it again? ABSOLUTELY. With kids? YOU BET!