Sailing around the islands of the Caribbean remains a genuine adventure for many of those who don’t live in the Americas. Disembarking to explore myriad port towns, lazing on idyllic beaches and swimming in the aquamarine sea all make for a laid-back vacay for the entire family. Kids soon adapt to island time and it’s easy to fall in love with the warm and vibrant atmosphere and friendly people.
This is also the chance to have lots of new experiences: horse riding on the beach, climbing up a waterfall, looking for crocodiles in Jamaica, snorkelling with tropical fish in Curaçao, zip-lining over rainforests, hiking on volcanoes in St Lucia, spotting hummingbirds in Tobago, and visiting pineapple, banana and coconut plantations in Antigua.
The UK-based P&O Cruises has five family-friendly ships including the newest, MV Britannia. It was named the Best New Ocean Ship at the Cruise International Awards last year – no surprise there considering the 18-deck five-star vessel offers over 30 leisure venues and dedicated facilities for children to keep them thoroughly entertained throughout the trip. These include kids’ clubs, a night nursery, well-equipped cabins with bunk and sofa beds, a splash zone and a sun deck for teens.
One of its many highlights is a special children’s tea every night with a kid-friendly spread that includes fish fingers and pizza, but if you prefer to dine in one of the restaurants, you’ll find children’s menus in all of them. There are also tours designed for families such as trips to water parks, zoos and aquariums.
Grown-ups, meanwhile, will love on-board tutorials by celebrated chefs like Marco Pierre White, along with dance lessons, fitness classes, sports tournaments, movie screenings, craft classes and even guest lectures. There will be Strictly Come Dancing- style competitions as well, open to all.
Book the 14-night Caribbean cruise on-board the Britannia, starting on December 2, 2016 from £1,399 on double-occupancy basis. The full-board price also includes return airfare from London Gatwick to Bridgetown, Barbados, where the ship sails to cover the most spectacular Caribbean islands. Visit www.pocruises.com.
Fantasy on land and sea
If you’re not sure whether cruising is for you, then a family stay-and-cruise holiday that begins in Orlando, Florida, could be just the thing you’re looking for. You can spend a few days at theme parks, enjoying the rides, and then board your ship for the Bahamas.
With a Disney Cruise Line stay and cruise package, you can make a pit stop at the Walt Disney World Resort, aka Disney World, and explore its four spectacular theme parks – Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and, of course, Magic Kingdom – at leisure. An unmissable tourist hotspot in the coastal state, it’s home to iconic rides including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, It’s a Small World, Mission: Space and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Once you and the kids have had their fill of memorable Disney excitement, embark a state-of-the-art vessel at Miami to cruise to Nassau, the old-world capital of the Bahamas, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s own private island, via Key West at the tip of the Straits of Florida where the whole family can enjoy a holiday like no other.
As you might expect from the world’s largest entertainment company, Disney Cruise Line’s four majestic ships offer an outstanding experience in sailing the high seas. They’re designed to evoke a feeling of elegant cruising, with art deco interiors, warm yet lavish finishes and sweeping views, all enhanced by Disney touches throughout.
The best part about setting sail on board Disney Magic are the brilliant themed spaces for kids, which will keep them constantly busy. Not stealing the shine off AquaDunk, the thrilling three-storey water slide on board, top marks still go to Marvel’s Avengers Academy – it’s criminal not to follow the franchise’s TV and big screen outings now, especially if you’re a parent – where your child can take command of the secret Shield post, or don superhero robes and take up Thor’s hammer, Captain America’s shield or Iron Man’s armour. Plus, surprise superhero visits will bring out the crime fighter in your child. Younger kids will love Andy’s Room (from Toy Story), the forest setting of Pixie Hollow and non-stop fun at the Mickey Mouse Club.
While your kids let their hair down, you can relax by the pool, get a massage at Senses Spa or enjoy live piano music at Keys. But if you were to become an agent of Shield with your kid in tow, who can really stop you?
A five-night full-board Bahamian cruise on Disney Magic from Miami, starting December 18, 2016, starts from $2,809 (Dh10,317) for two. You can extend your vacation to stay back at Disney World Resort by calling +1 800 951 3532. Visit disneycruise.disney.go.com for more.
Home away from home
You may think you know everything about the UAE, but we guarantee surprises on a cruise around the Arabian Gulf. From witnessing the spectacle of Dubai’s skyline from sea to taking a rib boat ride around Abu Dhabi harbour, discovering desert wildlife like cheetah, giraffe and the endangered Arabian oryx) on Sir Bani Yas Island as well as navigating the coral reefs of Khor Fakkan or the fjords of Khasab, a plethora of amazing sights await the entire family. Plus, there’s something magical about being out at sea on a balmy Arabian night – we promise you’ll be enchanted.
Operating an amazing trip around the UAE and Oman is the Italian company MSC Cruises, best known for its contemporary ships and cool vibe – think Swarovski staircases and plush furnishings. One of its ships is even inspired by cinematic legend Sophia Loren. The brand’s stylish philosophy is perfectly in sync with the Middle Eastern nations’ tryst with grandeur, and in this, the MSC Fantasia offers an unparalleled time.
An 18-deck eco-friendly vessel that can hold 4,363 passengers in one go, the ship balances a cosy atmosphere and cutting-edge design with fabulous finesse. In addition to a real stone piazza and an espresso bar at its heart, MSC Fantasia is home to a superb jazz club, a sports lounge with video games for the little ones, Formula 1 simulator, 4D cinema, gorgeous pools and a kids’ zone that will help you carve out some well-deserved relaxation time for you and your partner. However, if you opt for the MSC Yacht Club – a ship within a ship, you could say – refined luxury is the name of the game, with 24x7 butler service, quiet private spaces and pampering spa treatments galore.
A seven-night cruise on MSC Fantasia from Dubai, starting December 17, 2016, costs Dh3,183, cruise only. Go to www.msccruises.com.
If you’ve always wanted to visit China and Japan, then a cruise is the perfect way to get a taste of both cultures. Many cruise liners are now home porting ships in Shanghai, so you can spend a few days exploring the humdrum ways of Chinese life, before embarking on your voyage to Japan, a relatively quiet nation.
While Shanghai isn’t an obviously family-friendly city (and it is quite crowded), it has many attractions that will appeal to tots, including the psychedelic light and sound display in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel under the Huangpu River. Another cool place is People’s Park in the heart of the sprawling city, as it’s perfect for running around and generally taking a break from shopping on Nanjing Road. The children will also be wowed by the sheer scale of the skyscrapers that rise along the boundaries of the space, as well as the view of Shanghai by night from atop the Shanghai World Financial Centre.
Meanwhile, the country is excitedly counting down to June 16, when Shanghai Disney Resort opens its doors. Attractions range from thrilling rides such as Peter Pan’s Flight to live shows like Lion King and Tarzan: Call of the Jungle and Disney princess experiences in a pretty castle.
In Japan, cruises call at Nagasaki, a historical powerhouse, and Fukuoka, both on Kyushu island. The latter is full of museums, zoos, gardens and beaches, making for a very pleasant destination for all the family.
Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas is one of the most innovative cruise ships to launch over the past few years. Not only does it have the North Star, a London Eye-style pod that reaches out over the sea, bumper cars and the FlowRider surf simulator, but it’s also home to the world’s first skydiving simulator at sea. Take it from us, you and your family, including the kids, will love sailing on this ship. Its kids’ clubs are extremely well thought-out, and there are Royal Babies and Royal Tots interactive playgroup sessions as well. There’s no fear that you or the kids will get lazy and complacent as the range of on-board activities offered on this ship are mind-boggling – think rock climbing, ice skating, boxing, running, scuba diving and zip lining, to name a few. Put your kids on learn-a-new-skill duty and make the most of language, dance, scrapbooking, and craft classes.
But it’s food where the vessel really excels, with a dizzying array of cuisines on proud display. These include pan-Asian, Italian by Jamie Oliver, grills and barbecues as well as speciality dining at the Alice in Wonderland-themed Wonderland restaurant.
A five-night cruise departing Shanghai on December 19, 2016 to Fukuoka and Nagasaki November 2016, starts from Dh2,112 per person. Visit www.royalcaribbean.com.
There’s a lot to be explored in the various nations set by the quiet waters of the Gulf; for instance, Bahrain is home to some amazing waterparks. But an itinerary that takes you to a beautiful European countries as well will be a fantastic way to spend a holiday.
One such jaw-droppingly beautiful country is Cyprus. A typical Mediterranean getaway with the signature azure waters, fabulous climate and fresh cuisine, mostly a nod to its Turkish and Greek heritage, the tiny island has a rich, varied history. Its art dates back to about 10,000 years, while its music has distinct Mediterranean and Arabic overtones.
For an upmarket cruise experience, go for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2, arguably one of the world’s most luxurious vessels. The five-star cruise liner is a statement in extravaganza, with incredibly spacious suites, elegant interiors, gourmet dining, exclusive concerts and readings, and an informal on-board art gallery boasting nearly 900 works by artists such as Damien Hirst.
The sophisticated ambience doesn’t dull the family-friendly edge though, proven by adorable kids’ clubs and gorgeous bedrooms. The cruise line also offers babysitting services and a free baby welcome package, as well as sporting, art and craft activities for tots and teens alike, so all you have to do is lie back, relax and enjoy the soothing effect of being out at sea.
Go for the 10-day cruise from Dubai to Cyprus, departing on May 17, 2016, starting at Dh20,428 per person. Price includes return economy airfares, transfers, full-board amenities, activities and services of a tour guide. Visit www.hl-cruises.com.
Charges may apply for kids' clubs for very young children and babysitting