When it comes to family vacations, cruise holidays are a convenient cop-out. There isn’t much travel planning to do, no jet-lag to languish in, and no unwieldy baggage to lug from airport to taxi to hotel. Meanwhile, your whole gang gets to go to a single destination together, and you can still be sure that there’s something to suit every child in your family – from the excitable three-year-old to the grouchy 63-year-old who’s “just here for the all-you-can-eat-buffet”.
We sailed to nowhere onboard Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas to distill the six things you and your gang must get up to – on top of the usual cruise-sailing suspects – while riding the waves on this spanking new mini-city-of-a-ship.
The official description of the Adventure Ocean programme on board Royal Caribbean cruises is a “youth club” where kids between three and 11 can meet and play with other kids in their age category. But every parent knows that it’s really a safe and secure childcare facility to drop off the young ‘uns so that they themselves can go off and have an adult adventure on the ocean. Whether it’s “getting lucky” at the casino tables – or getting lucky in their balconied suite – the adults can have a bout of much-needed us-time before picking up the kids and declaring to them that “Daddy and Mummy had so much fun at the swimming pool!” (Wink, wink.)
Three-to-five year-olds are bundled into Aquanauts Group; six-to-eight year-olds join the Explorers Group; while the Voyagers Group will keep the older kids (up to 11 years old) occupied. For tots younger than three, there are also Royal Babies and Royal Tots nursery playgroups.
EAT A HOT DOG… OR FIVE
A regular fixture on a few Royal Caribbean cruises, The Dog House is a free-flow (and free) hot dog stand that serves up a variety of hot dogs, from all-American Coney Dogs, to Teutonic-tasting Thuringer pork sausages and the zesty Big Apple hot dog. Each dog also comes with sides of potato salad and creamy coleslaw. While sauntering about the Spectrum, it’s nearly impossible not to get a chunky hot dog each time you walk past the Dog House. Just be careful that it doesn’t spoil your appetite for dinne… oh what the heck – we’ll have three more, please.
VEG OUT WITH A VIEW
There’s so much to do (and eat) aboard the Spectrum that we very often forget the pure bliss of doing nothing. Enter your stateroom balcony (“stateroom” is what they call your “hotel room” on the ship). If you can tear yourself away from the hustle and bustle that Spectrum has to offer and carve out some quiet family time in the Balcony Stateroom, it’s also a terrific reminder of why you’re here in the first place. To spend time with the family you love so dearly. (Right? Right??!)
TEPPANYAKI: DINNER AND A SHOW
If you’re cruising with younger children who might not fancy the fine-dining options (but neither do you want to eat hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper), Teppanyaki – the teppanyaki restaurant that calls it like it is – is a fun-for-all dinner option. It’s a proper full-service restaurant that gives the adults a chance to dress up and eat a meal that’s not cobbled from 24 self-service stations (I’m looking at you, Windjammer buffet restaurant). But the kids will stay entertained by the showy and comic antics of the chef. Our usually tentative and hard-to-impress 5-year-old cackled to our chef’s egg-snake monster, an onion volcano, and an accidental (I think) broken egg over his head.
I BELIEVE I CAN IFLY
Ripcord by iFly is a skydiving simulator for the family in search of an adrenaline rush. If the kids aren’t up for it (they must be at least three years old), it’s also a great way for the parents to demonstrate the importance of overcoming your fears with courage and conviction. (I volunteered my spouse.)
The Northstar – essentially a giant bubble with a gorgeous view – is one of those tourist-trappy things that you just have to try. You and your family are hoisted up in a 360-degree-view bubble that demonstrates to us the infinite vastness of the ocean and reminds us of that uneasy feeling in our buttocks when we’re hanging 100 metres above sea level. Pro tip: No one has ever seen a whale cavorting in the ocean from the Northstar, but you can try anyway.