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The Mumsnet guide to your first family cruise

Considering a family cruise but don’t know where to begin? Here's everything you need to know before setting sail. 

By Rachel Erdos | Last updated Mar 22, 2024

Family cruises with P&O

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Swapping dry land for the high seas can feel like entering a whole new world of holiday planning. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of cruising, you’ll likely have a long list of questions around what to pack, how to prep and what to expect.

Cruising offers a hassle-free way to explore a variety of destinations in one trip without having to put together a detailed travel plan or having to pack and unpack the family suitcase along the way. And with easy (and abundant!) access to food, entertainment, activities, excursions and kids’ clubs, it offers great value for money and bags of convenience - a winning combination when it comes to family holidays. 

Keen to dip your toe in the water but don’t know where to start? We’ve put together this handy guide to answer the most frequently asked questions from first-time cruisers alongside insights from well-travelled Mumsnetters and top tips and tricks for a smooth sailing.

As a kid I loved cruise holidays! So did my parents. We saw so many places that we never would have seen otherwise. The food is also pretty amazing. We also met lots of interesting people.


Are cruises good for families?

Dining onboard P&O Cruises

Kitted out with restaurants, bars, pools, shops, spas, theatres, kids’ clubs and more, cruise ships are like fun floating resorts and you can expect all the things you’d find at a family-friendly hotel onboard a family-friendly ship. The added bonus of cruising is that you’ll wake up to a different view every day so if you like a bit of variety on holiday and enjoy exploring new destinations, a cruise could be perfect for your family. And because the onboard amenities and facilities are so varied, cruise holidays are ideal for multigenerational family trips. 

If you pick a ship that’s geared up to cater to families, like one of P&O Cruises five family-friendly ships, you’ll find kids’ clubs offering age-appropriate activities, typically for children aged from six months right up to teenagers. Note that cruise companies don’t accept kids younger than six months old. 

A cruise holiday offers excellent value for money with virtually all expenses covered upfront including accommodation, meals, entertainment and transportation between destinations, making budgeting simple and straightforward.  

P&O Cruises are great for families. We have been going on them since Ds was 5 and he loves it.

At a glance: P&O Cruises family-friendly ships

What’s included in the price of a cruise holiday?

P&O Cruise Iona

The beauty of a cruise is that the package price covers pretty much everything. As well as cabin accommodation, you’ll get access to kids’ clubs and a huge array of activities, facilities and entertainment (often including cinema screenings, theatre shows and live music) for the whole family.

One of the best things is the incredible selection of food on offer, from buffet restaurants to alfresco snack stations. And on family-friendly ships you can enjoy kids’ menus and early dinner sittings for little ones. Essential drinks like water, tea, coffee and fruit juice (typically at breakfast) are included but you’ll need to pay extra for other drinks including alcohol (either with a drinks package or as you go) and on some cruise lines you’ll need to pay for tips at the end of your trip. Tipping isn't needed on P&O Cruises ships so you can relax knowing good service and good times are all part and parcel of your P&O Cruises holiday.

Cruises are amazing value for money, the service is great and so is the food.


Are prices discounted for kids?

Depending on the cruise line and ship, families should be able to take advantage of price reductions for kids aged 17 and under sharing the same cabin as two adults. On the family-friendly ships Arvia, Azura, Britannia, Iona and Ventura, P&O Cruises offers generous discounts when kids make use of extra pull-down beds or sofa beds in selected cabins. 

P&O family cabin

DS went on P&O Cruises at 4, 6 and 12. He loved them all and can't wait to do another one. There's lots to do and the kids clubs and entertainment are really good.


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What activities can kids enjoy onboard?

P&O Cruises onboard entertainment

Family-friendly ships offer kids’ clubs staffed by enthusiastic and qualified childcare professionals which means that children can enjoy a range of activities onboard while parents hit the deck for a bit of downtime. P&O Cruises has five different clubs for kids of different ages and even offers a night nursery service for children between six months and four years - perfect if you want to make the most of a leisurely dinner and a show. 

P&O Cruises ships like Iona and Arvia have a Sports Arena on board where you can play football, basketball, tennis and cricket, as well as a choice of pools and splash zones. Arvia's Altitude activity zone features a thrilling high-ropes experience, a fun tropical island-themed minigolf course and an aqua splash zone with shaded areas and ocean views. And both ships feature SkyDome, by day a relaxing venue to take a dip in the pool and by night an extraordinary entertainment venue.

Golf on P&O Cruises

When it’s time to explore a port of call, the ship’s shore experiences team can help to arrange excursions for families or point you in the direction of kid-friendly beaches or attractions. Back on board, you’ll typically find family-friendly theatre shows and early evening performances for some pre-bedtime fun. 

We took our kids on a cruise when they were 10 and 14. They absolutely loved it. The kids clubs are well staffed with lots of activities. At one point we had to insist they spent some time with us as it was actually a 'family holiday'.

Are there areas that kids can’t visit onboard a cruise ship?

On family-friendly ships you may find that some bars and lounges are just for adults and obviously the casinos are out of bounds for under-18s. Some theatre shows may have age restrictions in place too. 

When using the pools, note that kids will need to be accompanied by adults at all times. And while there are dress codes in place for formal dinners, they don’t apply to kids aged 17 and under on family-friendly ships (although they might enjoy getting dressed up for the occasion!). 

We have done 5 cruises from Southampton with P&O Cruises with children from 6 months to 14 and have loved them.


How much luggage can you take onboard a cruise?

All cruise lines offer a generous luggage allowance. Most ships are pretty flexible about luggage but require that you travel with an amount that will comfortably fit in your cabin. If you’re flying to meet the ship you’ll need to take airline luggage restrictions into account. You have more freedom if you board a no-fly cruise from somewhere like Southampton. 

In fact, there are no restrictions in place on P&O Cruises holidays departing from Southampton so families can load up on all the essentials like prams, travel cots, bottles, nappies, favourite toys and more. 

We did P&O Cruises a few times when the kids were young. They were great holidays. They do so much for kids in their kids clubs. Sailing from Southampton was a doddle...once you're thru security, you step on board and your holiday begins! Def recommend cruising with kids.


What to pack for a family cruise

What to pack for a family cruise

Thanks to the generous luggage allowance on cruises, you have a bit more flexibility when it comes to packing for a family cruise. As mentioned above, you can pack prams, travel cots, travel seats and all the baby gear that’ll make your life easier while away (just bear in mind that you may need to factor in airline restrictions). 

In addition to comfy clothes for different climates, swimming gear, sunnies, sunhats and shoes for a variety of terrains, it’s well worth taking travel games, tablets, toys and books to keep kids entertained whenever you fancy relaxing in your cabin or by the pool on sea days. Most cabins have TVs. Every cabin onboard a P&O Cruises ship has a TV with access to films and box sets. Arvia, Britannia and Iona also offer 250+ on-demand films and TV programmes.

Take essentials (including sun cream) with you, but don’t worry if you forget to pack them as you’ll usually be able to purchase such necessities on board. Check with your cruise line in advance as some toiletries are provided in cabins. And don’t forget any medication or prescriptions that you may need throughout the trip. Formal wear isn’t required for kids but it can still be fun for little ones to get dressed up for special occasions. 

Top tips for a fantastic first family cruise

  • Choose a cruise line that offers activities that align with your kids’ interests and ages (such as Arvia, Azura, Britannia, Iona, or Ventura with P&O Cruises)

  • Book early to secure your ideal cabin type and location on the ship

  • Opt for a cabin with a balcony or window to make the most of the views (and natural light)

  • Check to see if you need to sign kids up for age-specific activities and events ahead of time 

  • Build family downtime into an activity-packed schedule

  • Take advantage of early dinner sittings to keep hungry kids happy

  • Consider pre-booking family-friendly shore excursions, so everyone can get excited about exploring ashore

  • If they’re old enough, get kids involved in planning shore excursions to keep them engaged throughout the trip 

About P&O Cruises 

P&O Cruises is Britain’s favourite cruise line, welcoming guests to experience holidays with a blend of discovery, choice, relaxation and exceptional service catered towards British tastes. Each of the seven ships has its own appeal from family friendly to exclusively for adults. With over 200 destinations visited worldwide, P&O Cruises holidays are carefully curated to inspire discovery whilst being great value for money. 

For summer 2024 and beyond, we’re pleased to announce we’ve even more family holiday places available on Arvia and Iona – so join the fun and sail with us. It’ll be an award-winning choice thanks to our most recent accolade of British Travel Awards 2023 Winner for ‘Best Cruise Line for Family Holidays.’ 

About the author 

Rachel Erdos is an Editor at Mumsnet where she commissions, edits and writes content with a focus on family travel. She has written hotel reviews, features and destination guides for publications including the Guardian, Four Seasons Magazine, Travelzoo, Visit Britain and Visit London, and worked as an Editor at Cruise Critic where she cruised with Viking Cruises and Costa Cruises. She loves nothing more than researching and writing about fun things for families to do in destinations near and far.