Cruising, the ultimate family break

If you are looking for the perfect multi-generational holiday, I must say going on a cruise is the ideal option for all ages. We recently returned from a ten-day cruise through the South Pacific on the lovely P&O Pacific Pearl. There is no waiting around in airports, no hotel transfers, no sightseeing pressure and so no real need for tantrums or stress. It’s hard to say who enjoyed the trip more, the kids, our parents or us.

Relaxing and low-stress seem to be at the top of the list for many parents of young children when looking for a holiday and a cruise really covers both of these needs. We went on a cruise holiday with our four and five-year-old daughters and both our mothers. Not only did the adults have a relaxing holiday, but the kids had a ball with all the activities and they have brought back memories to last a lifetime.

The Pacific Pearl holds 1800 passengers although it never feels that way. While the kids were in the kids club most days, we were able to find a quiet deck chair to read a book and enjoy looking at the sea. My favourite place on the ship was The Oasis (pictured below), a child-free zone with deck chairs, a bar and two jacuzzis.  We spent a lot of time here while the kids were entertained at the kids club. I personally managed to read two books and a pile of magazines, which is generally how I judge the relaxation level of my holidays.

Pacific Pearl is also home to many offerings that are popular across the fleet including a Salt Grill by Luke Mangan restaurant, two swimming pools, whirlpool spas and an aerial acrobatics rig spanning the width of its pool deck.

Families make up a third of P&Os passengers, so they cater heavily towards kids from three to seventeen years old. My daughters spent a lot of their holiday at the Turtle Cove, a fully supervised area for three to six-year-olds. There were so many amazing activities for them to do but highlights over the ten days were the numerous pass the parcel games, t-shirt painting, dance competitions, movie nights, an ice cream party, and Island and Pirate nights with face painting and dress ups. My youngest came up with a very mighty pirate aaarrrhhh!

The Turtle Cove is open each day from 9am-12pm and 2pm-10pm, which gives parents plenty of time to relax while their kids are making friends and enjoying themselves. My daughters soon knew more people on the ship than I did! Although staff give you a pager when you drop off your children, I was not contacted once to collect the kids – it was more of an effort to tear them away from Turtle Cove when it was closing or when we wanted some family time.

There was a children’s pool out the back of Turtle Cove which was perfect for our age group and under a giant shade cloth. The ship moves a lot while at sea so the water in the pools splashes around. My children loved the kids’ pool as it was shallow and they could stand or even snorkel in this pool. The other pools were a little deep for them so I was glad to have this option.

If you have older children there is the Shark Shack for seven to ten-year-olds and P&Os largest ever teen centre, HQ and HQ+, for eleven to seventeen- year-olds.

P&O recently opened a new restaurant, Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. We dined at Salt Grill twice and it was well worth the minimal surcharge for the meal. The intimate restaurant, seating only sixty, was booked out every day so you need to get in early and make reservations once you board the ship. The food and service were outstanding and I would recommend eating here at least once on your holiday.

Our favourite place to dine was on the deck outside the buffet restaurant. We always got a table for six people and sat there for hours. The girls ran around the deck after the meal and we all had coffee and watched the ocean from the back of the ship. We would all meet here early in the morning once we had gone for a walk and needed a pre-breakfast snack. We’d eat most our lunches here and sometimes have an afternoon coffee. We ate most our dinners in the a-la-carte restaurant which was fancier but very child-friendly.

I tried out the new fitness centre and day spa, well to be honest, just the day spa (but it was next to the fitness center!) I had a bamboo massage which was very relaxing. They have ten treatment rooms, a nail area and also a hair salon.

As much as I loved the girls going to Turtle Cove, I loved picking them up and doing family activities together. There is afternoon tea with scones, jam and cream in the restaurant that we would go to quite often, game shows, bingo, circus shows on the deck and in the Atrium, family movie and disco nights and so much more.  There are plenty of bars, restaurants and shops to choose from so there is never a dull moment.  The Pacific Pearl features a giant poolside entertainment screen and a swim-up bar in the adults pool.

The ports we stopped at were Noumea, Isle of Pines, Lifou and Mystery Island, my favourite being Isle of Pines and Mystery Island. The snorkelling was amazing, with everything from clown fish and sea turtles to schools or tropical fish and bight coloured corals. My daughters really loved snorkelling for the first time and we went on the Snorkel the Natural Aquarium tour on the Isle of Pines which we all enjoyed.

A few hints and tips if you are going on a cruise:

  • Pack floaties or swim vests and also beach toys. These were not available on board and we had to buy these in Noumea as I did not pack anything.
  • Bring reef shoes for yourself as many of the tours require you to wear reef shoes when snorkelling.
  • Do not let your children see the dessert buffet on Day One, all they wanted with every meal was jelly.
  • If you allow your children to have their hair braided (which I only allowed a few braids per child) make sure you take extra elastics from the Islanders. When they break, you have nothing to retie the braids, and many tears! I got extra elastics at the next port, but it’s worth mentioning

Fares for Pacific Pearl’s ten-night South Pacific cruise departing Sydney on July 23, 2012 start from $899*pp quad share For more information and bookings contact a licensed travel agent or P&O Cruises on 13 24 94 or visit the website.

For under $100 per person per day for all meals, transport, entertainment and accommodation, I think you’d find it hard to find a more affordable and enjoyable holiday for this budget.

*subject to availability, conditions apply

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