Family cruises

Mother and daughter on cruise ship deck

Take it from Mumsnetters who have set sail en famille – there's more to a cruise holiday than cocktails with the captain and stuffy afternoon teas. Here's our advice for choosing the perfect trip

Why cruise? | Costs | Rooms | Activities | Dress Code | Food | Childcare | Top Tips

Go on then, give me five good reasons why

  1. There really is something for all ages and it offers the chance of good quality family time – as well as alone time, when needed.
  2. All the boring stuff (ie. getting to places) happens while you're asleep/enjoying the buffet/snoozing on a sunbed – so there's none of the usual stresses of travelling. Plus, you get the chance to visit numerous destinations in one trip.
  3. Cruising is great for children; there's no time to get bored as there's so much to do on board.
  4. If you hate flying, cruising straight out of the UK is a fantastic, low-altitude option. In addition you can park your car at the dock, pass security and board the ship, with little waiting around.
  5. There's a constant supply of food.

Ok, so which cruise should I book?
Cruise ship

You can choose to set sail from the UK or fly and join a cruise elsewhere. Budgets, your destination wish-list and what type of cruise experience you'd like (formal, casual or a mix of both) will all factor in your decision-making.

Before booking, double check the facilities on board and make sure you research and add up everything you will actually have to pay for.

“Do your research on which cruise line is best for you. I genuinely believe that there is a cruise company out there for everyone.”

But I'll need a second mortgage to afford a cruise, no?

“I'd always been under the illusion that cruises were ridiculously expensive and so had ruled them out in the past. But this year I have been doing my research and have actually been very impressed.”

Cruising is not a cheap holiday choice, to be sure – but there's not much point comparing it to a cheapie week's camping in Devon. We're talking full-board, plus great quality entertainment and leisure facilities – and (depending on your itinerary) you'll be visiting up to four different countries in the space of one week, without faffing about packing and unpacking.

Mumsnetters' top tips for keeping a tab on budgets:

  • “Don't dine at the speciality restaurants (for an extra charge) as there is really no need with the excellent food included.”
  • “Unlimited soft drinks packages are great value for the kids.”
  • “If you drink a lot of alcohol, try to go all-inclusive, or buy an all-inclusive drinks package.”
  • “Read all the small print: tipping/service charges, what food and drink you actually get and what you can and can't take on board.”
  • “Check your spending throughout the cruise, otherwise on your last day you could well be met with a bill bigger than expected!”
  • “Factor in the cost of gratuities when budgeting for the holiday. If they add $10 pp per day that's an additional $280 (for a family of 4) on top of the cost of a 7-day cruise.”

Inside, outside, starboard or port?

Stateroom and suites aside, your room choice is inside or outside and with or without balcony. Chances are you won't be spending too much time in your room, so you might prefer to spend the extra cash on cocktails and massages more vital things.

On the other hand, if you're travelling with small children who will be asleep from early evening, a balcony means you'll have somewhere to retreat to with a glass of wine.

“If you have older children who can sleep in their own room, book them an inside cabin and you book the balcony opposite, this way you are not worried about them wandering onto the balcony at night and it is cheaper than paying for two balcony rooms.”

But what about cabin fever?

One of the most compelling reasons for taking a cruise is the fact that you'll see many different destinations in a week. You don't have to get off the ship in port (you could make use of the facilities whilst everyone is out exploring, for example) – but it is a fantastic opportunity.
Family sightseeing

Here are Mumsnetters' top tips for port days:

  • “Book your excursions as soon as they are released to avoid disappointment.”
  • “Don't feel you have to do something organised at every port, sometimes just explore on your own. But remember you have a very limited time in port and to make the most of it you need to plan ahead: find out how far from the city centre you will be, transport options, what the major attractions are etc.”
  • “Check if you can leave DC in the kids' club if you want to go ashore. One of the reasons cruising suits us as a family is that DH and I love wandering around random places. This bores the children senseless and they're much happier on board in the kids' club.”
  • “You can save a fortune by researching and pre-booking your own excursions before you go.”
  • But a word of caution: “by booking on board through the ship you have the guarantee that the ship will wait for you if the tour is late – this will not happen if you explore independently and return to the ship late.” Eek.

And on sea days:

  • “There are so many different things to do on board: games, quizzes, ice skating, casino, shows, wall climbing, gym, spa, lazing by the pool, shopping… not to mention the huge choice of bars and eating venues – the list goes on.”
  • “The live shows are generally excellent and equally as good as top West End theatre shows, so not to be missed.”
  • “Take plenty of exercise on sea days by power walking around the deck for several miles… it's invigorating and it helps keep off the pounds from the excellent food served on board.”
  • “Surprisingly even on huge ships, we still found there were quiet areas. Have a really good walk about the first day to find the best places.”
  • “Cruising is like a holiday resort at sea; if you wanted to, you could stay on board for the duration of your holiday, and you still wouldn't be bored. The most appealing thing is the fact that there is something for everyone, whether that's to do with age or interest.”

Wait, I hear there's a dress-code?

Most cruise lines have at least one formal dinner per cruise, but fear not – you won't necessarily need to frock up every night, or indeed at all. Check with your cruise line for suggested items to take, but be aware that dress codes are strictly enforced within the main dining rooms.

Aside from formal events, just come prepared with clothes as you would any normal holiday. Remember comfy shoes for excursions.

Most ships have laundrettes on board if you need to wash/iron during the week – just remember to bring washing powder etc – these can be expensive to buy on the ship.

“Google the dress code – they vary hugely. Ours is Country Club Casual, so quite relaxed. No tie necessary for men, jeans allowed in restaurants, chinos and open neck shirt acceptable on dressy nights, dresses and sandals for women – just like any land hotel really.”

You will not go hungry. Not on a cruise. Ever.
Family at a dinner table

With food plentiful and by all accounts delicious, you won't hear any rumbling tummies. And passengers with specific dietary requirements won't miss out either – just be sure to inform your cruise line before you travel. Here's what else you need to know about on board dining:

  • “Cruises are NOT a holiday for those on a diet – enjoy and return to your sensible eating plans after the holiday.”
  • “You book your dinner sitting: you can either pick to have the same time every night (early or late sitting), or a more flexible option where you either turn up and wait or book earlier in the day. You can opt to have a table to yourselves, or sit with other people.”
  • “On family friendly cruises children are welcome in the main restaurants – so don't feel you have to stick with buffets.”
  • “Once you arrive on board it is a 24-hour eating experience. Breakfast rolls into brunch, brunch rolls into lunch, lunch rolls into afternoon tea and afternoon tea into dinner.”

What about childcare?
Little boy acting as a captain

The major cruise lines all offer childcare on board, with kids' clubs typically catering from 18 months up. In most cases these clubs are included within the price of your ticket, but do double check at the time of booking. Most operators also offer babysitting/evening childcare sessions for an extra charge.

  • “Find the kids' club as soon you set sail so your little ones can meet all the other children in their age group, and hopefully make new friends.”
  • “Our son made several long term friends from all over the world.”

Have we got you on board? Hooray. Now for some final words of wisdom…

  • Make sure your travel insurance knows you're going on a cruise holiday. Medical costs can be high, especially if you have to leave the ship by helicopter!
  • Get a decent debit card which has no foreign exchange fee – especially useful in different ports.
  • After boarding, it can take quite a while for your luggage to be delivered to your cabin. Be prepared and take everything to keep your family comfortable and entertained for a few hours in your hand luggage, until your belongings arrive.
  • Book any hair/beauty treatments when you first get on as they fill up pretty quickly, especially ahead of formal nights.
  • If your child isn't potty trained they won't be allowed in the swimming pools on most cruise ships.
  • Prepare a definitive list of items that you take with you up deck and on tours, like your camera, water and so forth. There is nothing more taxing on a cruise than having to return to the cabin for some sun cream .
  • “When we took a cruise, I brought an inflatable kiddie's pool for my son to play in so he could splash about.”
  • “I was worried that everything would be really formal and stuffy, but honestly it was the most relaxing and child-friendly holiday I have ever been on.”
  • “I was totally anti-cruise before we went, but my parents so wanted us all to go. By the end of the trip, they had to prise my fingers off the railings and drag me down the gangplank to get me off!”