Planning a first family cruise can often be both nerve wracking and thrilling. From booking to disembarking, there are many aspects to keep in mind, since any of them could make or break the whole vacation. On a brighter note, a wide array of activities, amenities and food can potentially satisfy anyone, no matter whether it is a newborn baby or a seasoned grandpa. Those who want to stay on top of these aspects quickly find out that cruises are the ultimate family vacations. Here is how to take the stress and frustration out of the process and navigate the minefield of decisions.
Across the seven seas
Some basic rules of travelling always apply, although many specifics are different. For instance, packing techniques help just like with any other vacation, but when cruising, it is also highly advisable to pack a tote bag with all the essentials you need ‒ namely because it takes a few hours for your luggage to be delivered to the cabins. Also, getting off a ship is not like checking out of a hotel. There is again a process of waiting involved. Speaking of which, cruise lengths vary from a couple of days to two weeks.
Decide how many days makes sense for you and your family, depending on your preferences and free time. Another thing to take into account is the selection of the arrival and departure ports. The basic dilemma comes down to either visiting just one destination or hitting many with one fair. Some of the most popular bucket list destinations are the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, South Africa, Northern Europe, North America, etc. In any event, pick a destination the whole family is on board with.
The bottom line
Next, it is time to look around for the best deal out there. Choosing the right cruise line is the cornerstone of a successful cruise. The lines differ in terms of quality of service, size of the ship, and offered amenities. It is not uncommon to stumble upon shabby offers that are complete duds. You want to steer away from shore excursions that are basically glorified bus rides. Also, keep your eyes open for discounts, special offers, and deal alerts from reputable agencies.
Do your homework and utilize websites like Onboard.com that allow you to research and book cruises as well as read reviews on them. For families, it is important to note that some cruise lines stand out from the rest because of what they offer to young kids. Carnival cruises, for example, have a great line-up of kid programs, activities, and features that’ll keep the little ones entertained and engaged.
Once the cruise is booked, you need to figure out the itinerary. As for the time on board, there should be a variety of possible activities, including pool, cinema, skydiving, roller skating, bumper cars, golf, etc. Ports offer excursions such as snorkeling, kayaking, city tours, shopping, and horseback riding. Some cruises are marketed and tailored to be all-inclusive. Even then, however, you cannot expect not to have extra expenditures on board, such as pay-extra eateries, gift shops, beverages, various activities, etc.
From stem to stern
Some people overlook the fact that the location and the type of the room on the ship do play an important role. Staterooms are a budget option for those who do not plan on spending much time inside. If you are willing to pay a bit more, though, you can opt for balcony rooms, suites, and deluxe packages. Cabins on the low decks are a nice solution for people who are prone to seasickness.
The good news is that with the marvels of modern technology, you should be able to find high-quality pictures of the rooms or even go on virtual tours and watch live video feeds. Just remember to book the room well ahead of time and reserve the tickets before boarding. The most popular tours sell rather quickly and you do not want to miss the opportunity.
Finally, landlovers should not fret once on deck. Cruising is something that quickly grows on you, even if it feels scary at first. Rely on the crew to help you and provide you with all the necessary information. Make sure to let the kids rest after all the fun and games. Do not forget that you can (and should) stay in touch with your kids in case you want to do some activities separately. True, the cell phones won’t work, but Walkie Talkies will do the trick just fine.
When planned and done right, a cruise is the perfect vacation for the whole family. To make the magic happen, you have to know where and when you want to go and what you want to get from the vacation. All ships are not created equally and your choices matter a great deal. So, first-time cruisers, brace yourself. Do not skip the research if you want to have the time of your life and explore new horizons with winds in your sails.
Olivia is psychologist, traveller and entrepreneur from Brisbane. Mother of two beautiful children and proud owner of two silly boxer dogs, Teo and Mia. She is passionate about writing and always inspiring her readers to be clever in their lives. Her motto is “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Olivia is a regular contributor to High Style Life.
One of the things I wanted to do with BattleKid before we left the UK for Portugal was to visit as many castles in South Wales as we could. We love nothing more than getting out and doing a spot of dragon hunting while we explore old castles and forts. So, while BattleDad was away one weekend, I did a search for castles in South Wales and came upon one which looked great from the picture. And so it was that we went dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle, just me and the boy.
Carreg Cennen Castle, located near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, is perched high on top of a hill. Originating somewhere in the 12th century, it has been ruinous since the 15th century when it was vandalised during the War of the Roses. It dominates the skyline of the area around the River Cennan and surrounded by mountainous farming land.
Although quiet and peaceful today, it would have been a hive of activity at the height of its time with stables, workshops and kitchens keeping the castle going on a day-to-day basis. Carreg Cennan Castle is now a part of Cadw.
After visiting a friend in Swansea, BattleKid and I drove the 23 miles from Swansea past Ammanford to start our dragon hunting at Carreg Cennan Castle. I kept looking out for it but it didn’t come into view until we were only a few minutes from it. The closer we got, the more spectacular it looked. I can only imagine what people must have thought back in the 13th and 14th centuries as they approached the castle.
We parked in the car park and walked to the gift shop/restaurant to show our Cadw membership cards. And then it hit me that we had to walk up the hill to get to the castle. I genuinely did not think BattleKid would manage it. There is no way you will get a buggy up that hill. Considering he had not long turned 3 when we visited, I was sure I would hear “Mummy, up” half way up the hill. However, whether it was the promise of seeing the castle or going dragon hunting, he walked the whole way up the hill. I was so proud of him and secretly thankful as I just about managed the climb myself while holding his hand.
As you approach the castle, the views across the countryside are spectacular and you can see why they chose to build a castle on this particular hill. To enter the castle, we climbed a few stone steps before crossing a modern-day steel bridge to the Barbican which led to the Middle Gate Tower, with stunning views.
From there BattleKid and I turned left and went into the area leading to the North-East Tower. We checked in holes in the walls and any other nook and cranny a dragon might use to hide in. But our first check in our hunt didn’t turn up a dragon. We continued our dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle by going into the Hall and Chapel Tower, but no matter where we looked, we couldn’t find the dragon.
We headed across the Inner Bailey to the King’s Tower. However, as it was closed off, we just checked the stairs that we could see but alas, no dragon. I must say, when we visited in January it was bright and sunny, but boy was the wind cold. Despite hats and gloves, we still felt the sharpness to the wind and I can just imagine how hard the inhabitants of the castle must have had it during winter in the 12th to 15th centuries.
But Carreg Cennen Castle is still very beautiful. We carried on across the Inner Bailey to check around the North-West Tower. Despite no sign of a dragon we had lots of fun jumping in puddles left behind by rain.
Then something caught BattleKid’s eye from across the Bailey and off he went running towards the Hall again. He had spotted something red and came back clutching his dragon, having found him hiding in a high hole in a wall. Dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle was a success and he was chuffed with himself.
After some more puddling jumping, I decided we should start heading back down the castle to the restaurant to get something to warm us up. I was feeling cold and so were BattleKid’s hands. We didn’t do any roly-poly’s here as the ground was slippery and mucky but BattleKid did do some jumping off mounds in the grass.
Once we had descended the hill and passed through the Outer Gate, we went into the restaurant where I ordered a Welsh Cawl for BattleKid and me to share. And my word, was it amazing. Not only was it nice and warm, a very welcome thing, but it was extremely tasty. Certainly, the best Welsh Cawl I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t expensive either at £4.50 for the cawl, some bread and butter, and a chunk of cheese. BattleKid devoured most of it!
As we were having a nice day out, I took the long way home from Carreg Cennen through the Brecon Beacons National Park. A certain little boy slept most of the way home. I can safely say that our dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle was a resounding success and I’m so glad we visited it before leaving Wales.
Things to note if you go dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle
Carreg Cennen Castle is a Cadw site as mentioned and is open every day from 9.30am to 6pm from the 1st April to the 31st October. From 1st November 2017 to the 31st March 2018, the castle is open from 9.30am to 5pm*. The castle is closed on Christmas Day.
The whole site and car park are locked daily at 6.30pm.
Last admission is 45 minutes before closing, and it costs £5.50 per adult, with children, senior citizens and concession tickets costing £3.50. Children under 5 years of age enter free. As Cadw members our admission was included in our annual pass.
There are toilets on site, located in the restaurant or in the car park.
There is a restaurant and gift shop on site, and I can highly recommend the Welsh Cawl. There are benches available too.
Because the castle is located on a rocky hill, this site is not wheelchair or buggy friendly.
There is a car park at the bottom of the castle hill beside the farm and shop, is free and can hold approximately 50 cars.
Be aware, due to the location, mobile signal is poor, as I found out.
As the castle is privately owned (but managed by Cadw), there are livestock nearby. You are advised not to interact with them on your way to/from the castle itself.
BattleKid and I really enjoyed our time dragon hunting at Carreg Cennen Castle. It made a nice change seeing a castle further away from us rather then visiting Tretower or Abergavenny again. I can recommend it as a place to visit if you are in the Llandeilo area or are looking for a nice day out in South Wales. Be aware that, as it is situated on the top of a hill, you need to climb there to get it, but if 3-year-old BattleKid can manage it, anyone can. The views from the castle are spectacular and the descent down the hill is easy, although be careful if the ground is wet. And do stop off at the restaurant for a well-deserved break afterwards. The Cawl is well worth it.
Have you taken your children dragon hunting yet?
Thanks for reading,
*Prices and visiting times correct at the time of writing this post.
One thing I was apprehensive about before we left the UK was how it might affect my blog and the opportunities that came my way. While some PR’s have said they won’t send stuff to Portugal for review, others have been more than happy. Two such brands are Cosy Holder and My Piccolo.
We received a Cosy Holder and some My Piccolo pouches for review in the second week of July and had fun trying them out. I’ve also been lucky enough to have one sponsored post opportunity come my way and a few others offered, although I had to say no. One sounded good but for some reason didn’t come about and I’m not sure why.
So, in between reviewing some products, we took it easy in the second week of July and did some crafts, painting and playing with play doh while I got on with drafting blog posts and editing some videos for our YouTube channel which has been pretty much abandoned of late.
That said, on the third Saturday of July we had another Animal Vision charity event lined up in the form of a Fado. This is a concert of traditional music and song which featured two guitar players and four singers. The origins of Fado music can be traced back to Lisbon in the 1820’s, perhaps earlier.
We were treated to two ladies and two men singing songs that were both mournful and joyful and I have to say, one particular man and one lady blew us away. They had the most amazing voices, and although we had no idea what they were saying, we adults thoroughly enjoyed it. BattleKid loved the live music but wasn’t too fussed over the singing, putting his hands over ears during some of the singing. This amused the people sitting behind us.
Again, the proceeds of this event went towards the fundraising for the x-ray machine for Novavet, and at the end of the concert we learned more about the reason behind the fundraising.
One couple had a cat who they brought to Novavet. They learned she had breast cancer but were unable to see if it had spread or to what degree as Novavet don’t have an x-ray machine/scanner. Unfortunately, this meant the vets were unable to properly treat her and perhaps save her life. When asked by the couple whose cat it was why they didn’t have one, they were told of the cost of such a machine. Novavet said in order to fund one they would have to raise their prices significantly and they didn’t want to do that.
Novavet will care for any animal that is brought to them, whether their owners can afford the treatment or not. Most people can, but if they increased their prices, they would be unable to treat many of the animals that are brought to them. So, the couple started Animal Vision and fundraising for an x-ray machine for Novavet. And this is a cause we are more than happy to support.
At the end of the Fado, I saw the couple who had helped arrange the Flamenco evening and they came over for a chat to see how we are settling in. They have told me there will be another night in Xicken Piri Piri and I said we look forward to it, which we will. Any event help by Animal Vision will be supported by the Battle Family and my parents. We’ve enjoyed both events we’ve attended so far for this worthy cause.
The next week my sister (the third girl) arrived on the Tuesday with a surprise for us!
To be continued…
Read more about our adventures in Portugal in my Portugal Diaries section.
Does going on holidays with your children fill you with excitement or dread? Excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead, or dread of it turning out to be the worst holiday with kids. Yes, sometimes disaster can strike, and there is nothing you can do about it, but often it’s not something we can foresee. For instance, our worst holiday with BattleKid to date is a tossup between our first holiday to Lanzarote with him, and our second.
Lanzarote had been a favourite destination of ours for years. So, when booking a holiday with a one-year old, we thought why not return to the Canary Island of choice. We chose a resort and town we hadn’t been to and it looked great. When we arrived, we knew we had chosen right. A lovely one-bedroom apartment awaited us. Unlike our first holiday abroad with an 8-month old, we could put BattleKid to bed and relax in the living room with Netflix. The resort was very family friendly, and the town was a lovely 20-minute walk from our resort. It really couldn’t have been better. Until disaster struck on Day 5 of our 7-day holiday. Chicken pox was confirmed the next morning and we were grounded for an extra 3 days. Not what I wanted.
We decided that it was just unlucky of us, so didn’t let it stop us booking a return trip to the same resort the next year. However, the very first day we arrived, disaster struck again. This time, we had only just arrived at our apartment, and were leaving to go for a walk, when BattleKid fell. It resulted in a trip to the hospital for four stitches in his knee. It meant no pool time whatsoever for the entire holiday. We’ve now decided we are jinxed with that resort and may not return to it again, despite it being a brilliant resort.
In my previous post fellow bloggers and I shared with you our best holidays with our kids to date. This time I’ve asked them to share their worst holiday with kids to date. Let’s see where and why!
Bloggers Worst Holiday with Kids
Samantha from North East Family Fun says she generally enjoys Haven holidays, but wasn’t a fan of Golden Sands. Their caravan was dirty and had to be re-cleaned on arrival, the entertainment wasn’t great and it rained the whole time!
Jenna from Then There Were Three says her worst holiday with kids would have to be their trip to Barbados. The hotel was a shambles, and despite saying they were child friendly, the kids club was never open. They were also only informed of a child’s menu on their last night!
Sarah from Mumzilla says their worst holiday was to a holiday apartment in Spain with a then 18-month-old. It poured down all week with rainy. On the only sunny day, their son managed to tip his buggy and smashed his teeth in. They are now growing through stained as a result.
Oh, and the car seat provided for was for a baby, so it was fun cramming him in that one!
Karina from Mum’s the Nerd says their worst holiday was camping in North Wales as it rained heavily the entire time.
Cass from Frugal Family says their recent holiday to Milan has been their worst holiday with kids yet. Even though they had a great time overall it was too much hard work keeping everyone happy.
We booked a family room which meant no-one had space to go for some time on their own, so we were together 24/7 which was not ideal! I ended up refereeing arguments about everything from one child accusing the other of using up all the WiFi, to whose turn it was to go in the shower.
Collette from Truly Madly Cuckoo told us their worst holiday was when their son got airlifted to Bangor Hospital following an allergic reaction to a peanut he only touched at a BBQ.
It was so scary, I dread to think what would have happened if he had actually eaten the peanut rather than just touched it.
He has now been prescribed an Epipen which they carry everywhere.
Frances who blogs at Whinge Whinge Wine says their worst holiday with kids was last year in Majorca. Everyone got food poisoning and said it’s
No fun being puked on by two small children when you’re puking yourself.
It then struck her husband on the flight home, which ended up being delayed hours because they wouldn’t let him travel. You can read all about it in her blog post, aptly entitled Holidays from Hell. What an awful holiday, I think you’ll agree.
Lynne from A Day in the Life of a Mum of 6’s worst holiday with kids is my worst nightmare. On a trip to France, her car engine blew up and it had to be transported back to the UK. Her husband had to fly to London and buy a new car to get them home.
We laugh about it now but it was uber stressful at the time.
Hannah from Travelling with Leo says their worst would have to be their weekend camping at the Curious Arts Festival….
In torrential rain!
Lisa from Bare Mother told us their worst holiday was a return trip to a 5-star resort in Thailand.
The first time we were pregnant, and the whole trip was bliss – adults only pool, bar/room service to our balcony overlooking the water, afternoon naps, massages and dinner out every night. We tried to recreate with a 6-month-old, and failed miserably. Stuck in our room every night, in the dark, from around 6pm. Rookies!
I know that feeling!
Deborah from Country Heart and Home says their worst holiday was Scotland, where it did nothing but rain torrentially, all week. And when they did venture to the clubhouse, their then 3-year-old jumped into the deep end of the pool and couldn’t swim! The kids did nothing but argue and we were all stir crazy!
The whole week was a nightmare!
Emma from Wanderlust and Wet Wipes had a disastrous weekend in Muscat, Oman during which they all whinged and moaned for various reasons. You can read all about their weekend in the blog post she has written. Not quite the weekend away they had hoped for!
Jennifer from My Mummy’s Pennies is sad to say their worst holiday with kids was Disneyland Paris earlier this year. Their children enjoyed it, and she is glad they got to experience it but
It was such a stressful week that mainly consisted of queuing and we spent 5x what we usually spend on a holiday to do it.
We booked a cheapie to Greece. It was 40 degrees, the room had no air-conditioning and there was a motorbike rental business outside our bedroom window.
The bikes revved all night, and if they closed the window to stop some of the noise, they cooked in their room. They even had to shower all through the night just to keep cool. She says it was completely awful and she’d never do it again.
Cathryn from Cardiff Mummy Says told us their worst holiday was a week in her in-laws caravan in Borth. Although they’ve had some brilliant holidays there, for the week in question, it took them 5 hours instead of 2.5 hours to get there due to lots of road works and accidents. I know the road to Borth and can only imagine.
It rained the entire time, the kids fought constantly and the weather meant the TV signal stopped working. We came home early!
Nyomi from Nomi Palony said they saved up for their first all-inclusive holiday at the Costa Del Sol but it turned out that they had booked in the worst weather the region had seen in over a decade! It was torrential rain for the entire week.
To make it worse, Britain was having a heatwave so my feed was full of sunbathing happy brits while we were miserable.
On the way to the airport the baby vomited all over the car that would be left in the long stay airport parking in a heatwave. Once there we went into the city just to buy warmer clothes and waterproofs and somehow lost a 50 euro note getting out of the taxi. The all-inclusive food they saved for was terrible. Then poor Nyomi got a bad case of mastitis that meant she needed to go to a very busy A&E in Marbella. So bad was it, they were so happy to come home!
Zoe from The Tale of Mummyhood says her worst holiday so far was their first as a family of four. Her eldest daughter fractured her leg three days in and a week before her second birthday. She had a bright pink cast covered in hearts. Zoe is still not over the trauma, even though her daughter is brand new!
Alice from Living with a Jude has had both her best and worst holiday rolled into one, and her response has been featured in the previous post as well. She went to see family and friends in the states following several years of trying to get her horrid, emotionally abusive ex out of her life. While her friends out there made the visit amazing, and she had such sun seeing them all, her (then) seven year-old severely autistic son was (in her words) a bit of a nightmare.
He had meltdowns every day, wouldn’t stay on the beach, wouldn’t go out, freaked out on the plane. It was horrific!
It was the worst holiday because of her son’s behaviour but the best because emotionally she was on top of the world (her own words).
But the worst I’ve read is from Luis, who blogs at Single Daddy Daycare, when he was doing his very first holiday as a single co-parent. You need to read his post! I really felt for him after finishing it. From passport woes to projectile vomiting, his first holiday as a single co-parent certainly did not get off to a good start at all.
As you can see, the reasons for certain holidays being the worst holiday with kids are varied and unfortunately weather plays a big part in it. Searing heat is not much fun with kids (Emma and Nikki), nor is torrential rain which featured a lot.
Before BattleKid came along, BattleDad and I spent a week on the Isle of Man during the TT races. We had glorious sunshine some days. However, on our second last day the heavens opened and dampened our spirits. So much so we found a room for our last night so we wouldn’t have to sleep another night in a soggy tent. I’m not sure I could do it with BattleKid in tow.
What has been your worst holiday with kids to date? Did it involve rain? We’d love to know, so why not share it in the comments below!
As mentioned last time, we had a trip inland pencilled in for the Wednesday of the first week of July. A good friend of ours from Wales and his fiancée were holidaying in Lisbon and he had asked if we could meet up as we haven’t seen him for a few years. We also would be meeting his fiancée for the first time, so BattleDad found a place that was roughly half way for us and we planned our meet up.
Little did I know that the reason BattleDad chose it was because there is an amazing castle in the town. We left our place and headed past Castro Marim towards Beja, taking the mountain roads inland. We passed through a town called Mertola, which also hosts a castle on a hill. We plan to visit that as it’s only an hour from us.
After almost 2 hours on the road we arrived in Beja and found the castle. I honestly did not associate castles with Portugal but you can imagine my delight that we managed not one, but two dragon hunts within days of each other.
M and P were running a little late so we walked along the outer walls and admired how beautiful the castle looked. Once our friends had arrived we went into the castle to explore and hunt out the dragon lurking within.
After an hour, we found a café for a sit down and catch up with toasties and a coffee. I have to say I’m a big fan of toasties since moving to Portugal. They aren’t afraid of using butter and the bread they use is really good. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend the afternoon with M and P as BattleDad had to get back for a conference call at 3pm but we thoroughly enjoyed our catch up and were so grateful they took time out from their holiday to come see us.
We decided to head back to Tavira via the main motorway and we got a nasty surprise on our way home. We came across a set of tolls not far from Beja and I mistakenly thought we could use the fast lane. I’ve set up an online account for our tolls along the A22, the main motorway that runs along the South of Portugal. But alas, these electronic tolls are different to those on the other motorways.
There are actually 3 different types of tolls and unless you have a tag, which you can only get for Portuguese plated cars, you have to get a ticket and present it at the other end. We didn’t have a ticket and as a result ended up paying a fine of over €100 for a trip that should have cost less than €10. A costly lesson to learn! I’m just glad we had enough on us to pay.
On our way home we did pass the exit for Silves which my Dad reliably informs us has another castle. I really am surprised at how many castles there are in Portugal and how amazing they look. I had been wondering whether we would be able to continue our dragon hunting adventures but thankfully we can.
Later that week we spent yet another Friday evening at the beach. Someone fell asleep on the way there and woke up to discover himself at the beach. He and BattleDad had a whale of a time jumping waves and running away from them.
It’s an absolute joy to be able to nip to the beach of an evening and see the joy in our son’s face as he plays in the sand and sea, which is warm by the way. It makes us happy to know our decision to leave the UK for a life in the sun is paying off. We’re starting to settle in and find out feet but we’ve a while to go before I think it’ll truly feel like home. But so far so good.
Next time I tell you of more blogger mail that has winged its way to us here in Portugal!
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