Planning a holiday is stressful enough, but when you’re organising one for the whole family, it can be a real headache, especially if you’re after an extensive and action-packed itinerary.
To rid you of that stress and hassle, and to enable you to spend quality time with your family while on holiday (which is the whole point after all), a cruise is a great way to go. Cruise lines now offer a plethora of on-board activities, facilities and excursions to keep all ages entertained and will map out itineraries from start to finish.
With so much choice, it can, of course, make it difficult to decide which cruise line is the most family-friendly. Some ships may be better suited to infants and youngsters as opposed to teenagers, for instance, while others may be great for children of all ages, but not so much for parents who also want to enjoy themselves.
For us and for the majority of families in the UK who travel on this line every year, the one which offers one of the best and most comprehensive offerings is Norwegian Cruise Line. As well as catering to families of all ages, NCL holds the firm belief that there is no ‘one size, fits all’ approach when it comes to a family cruise holiday and therefore offers a tailor-made approach in all aspects of the experience and across all of its cruise ships.
This is highlighted, firstly, through the accommodation. NCL’s family-friendly ships, particularly its newer builds, have been specially designed with modern families in mind, featuring interconnecting staterooms, luxurious suites and three-bedroom garden villas, so larger groups have plenty of space to spread out while also enjoying quality time together. For those on a budget, there are also staterooms available with upper berths and extra beds.
While you will want to spend time together, you also want some adults-only time to relax and unwind, which is why kids’ clubs are a godsend. NCL’s Splash Academy and Entourage – a complimentary, professionally-supervised youth and teen programme – has become a huge hit with families. It offers separate activities for different age groups, ranging from two to 17 years old, so while tots are off learning how to juggle in dedicated play areas, teens can rid themselves of their annoying younger siblings and parents, and enjoy themed parties, video games and films.
Some vessels, including Breakaway and Getaway (which have the largest children spaces at sea), carry small cinemas and a circus school on board. Babies are even catered for on board at Guppies, an interactive parent-child activity programme.
Content with the knowledge that your children are having fun and being well looked after, parents can also enjoy their own ‘me’ time on board a Norwegian ship. The luxurious, award-winning Mandara Spa® is one of the best spas at sea, offering a range of treatments designed to pamper, soothe and rejuvenate weary-eyed passengers, from a hot-stone massage to acupuncture. The Thermal Suite, based on the concept of Turkish baths, features a Thalassotherapy pool, which is ideal for parents in need of some serious R&R. There are adults-only areas too, including the stylish, Ibiza-inspired beach club.
Why should kids have all the fun? This was certainly the mindset held by NCL when it went about creating its array of thrilling facilities, from Aqua Parks featuring slides for all ages, to challenging ropes courses, climbing walls, sports courts and jogging tracks, and for the slightly less active, sparkling pools and hot tubs.
Out of all its ships, Norwegian Epic offers some of the most varied entertainment on board, including hit Broadway shows performed in the Epic Theatre and unforgettable performances by Cirque Dreams.
Unlike other cruise lines which are rigid when it comes to dining times, NCL’s Freestyle Dining gives families the freedom and the flexibility to enjoy meals when they choose with no fixed times or pre-assigned seating within dining rooms. Families can sit down to a three-course meal or grab a quick burger at the made-to-order buffet. Parents looking for a slightly more sophisticated menu do not have to forgo this as at the global speciality restaurant, children aged 12 and under are given the complimentary kids’ menu.
You could spend hours wading through all of the family cruise deals and packages out there, but one of the best is NCL’s Free at Sea. It allows passengers the freedom and flexibility to design a bespoke holiday, adding their choice of extras from as little as £99 per person on top of the great-value base fare.
They are a number of packages available, including Premium Beverage, Speciality Dining, WiFi, Shore Excursion or the Family & Friends Offer. This final offer allows guests three and four to pay only the applicable tax for their cruise, but is only available on select sailings.
NCL has a number of itineraries taking place during the school holidays for families. Next year for the May half-term, Norwegian Epic will be sailing to the Mediterranean, embarking from Barcelona. Stopping off at popular ports of call, including Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Cannes and Majorca, this is the perfect week-long trip for the whole family to enjoy.
7-Day ‘Western Mediterranean from Barcelona’ cruise on board Norwegian Epic, departing 24 May 2020, from £2,702 for family of four, includes £99pp upgrade for two adults and the reduced rate (Family & Friends offer) for children, ncl.com