Family activity day with Royal Caribbean

I was in my 30s before I went on my first cruise (yes, forget the stereotypes about the blue rinse brigade). Minnie, on the other hand, has notched up her first time aboard a cruise ship before turning one.

I see no ships…

Admittedly she hasn’t quite managed to set sail and head out for sea, but did fit in a splash in the kids’ pool area, a mini ice show, a look at the kids’ club and a huge (shared) early birthday cake.

We’d been invited by Royal Caribbean to come along on their family activity day aboard Independence of the Seas, to discover just how family friendly cruises really are. The cruise line has been running its Royal Mums and Dads programme for a little while with a group of parent bloggers, as well as an advice line staffed by cruise-savvy parents.

And this time, we got to join in as well. My last cruise was the launch of the frankly gigantic Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, and while Independence isn’t quite so massive, it’s easily big enough at 1,112ft, longer than 37 double decker buses and heavier than 32,000 adult elephants. According to the captain, they’ve squeezed 1,400 children on before, without the rest of the passengers really noticing they’re there, thanks to the amount there is to do on the children’s deck.

Independence of the Seas

111,111 gallons of paint went into this

Checking in, I was frankly jealous of all the people heading aboard with suitcases and the promise of the Mediterranean to come (Independence is based out of Southampton until October 2013).

And that’s the first bonus for families. Yes, you have to go through the usual airport-style security and check-in, but it seemed so much less stressful – we even got to leave a sleeping Minnie dozing up while her buggy was checked – and then once you’re aboard, your holiday starts.

First stop, Adventure Ocean, the complimentary kids’ activities, starting with Aquanauts for three to fives (and going up to 17). Although Minnie was a bit young, she happily played with some animal figures while the other bloggers’ slightly older children raced around taking photos with the special cameras.

For the even older ones (and adults), there’s the Flow Rider surf simulator, a rock climbing wall, cupcake decorating and even a teen nightclub, along with special Barbie and Dreamworks activities.

20mph waves, you say?

20mph waves, you say?

All the activities are supervised – far too many to list, but I can’t imagine anyone looking at the list and not finding something they like – and parents can join in with some as well. We also popped our head into the small but lovely nursery, with its handful of cots and soft play toys. This costs $8 per hour (still about half the price of Minnie’s regular nursery) and you have to book in advance, so it’s worth signing up early. They’ll even give you a special phone for onboard use, in case they need to get hold of you.

Throw in free 45 minute play sessions developed with Fisher Price, babysitting for six-month-olds upwards (younger babies can’t travel) plus a special dining option where families get served first, before Adventure Ocean staff whisk them away after 45 minutes so parents can enjoy dessert and coffee alone, and I’m starting to wonder why Minnie and I haven’t embarked already.

But the highlight for her was the H2O zone. Show my daughter some water (pool, bath, probably even a puddle) and she’s in eleventh heaven.

This was even better, with waterfalls, fountains and jets to play in, as well as a heated baby pool – which was the temperature of a warm bath thanks to the 31C sunshine. Babies that aren’t toilet trained aren’t allowed anywhere apart from the baby pool, even with a swim nappy or double nappy, but as it was a changeover day, we managed to get special permission to try it out, resulting in Minnie’s squeals of delighted excitement, the official thumbs up.

royal-caribbean-h2O-water-zoneOf course, it’s not all aimed at the under 10s. Bars, spa, casino, more pools, and we got a taste of the ice show, inspired by everything from tango to line dancing. Minnie wasn’t the only one mesmerised by the twirling, sparkly ice dancers, and applauding after some of the most impressive moves. Probably the cutest though (I may be biased).

We only had about four hours on board before it was time for the genuine passengers to have their muster drill.

Enough for a quick taste – and in the same way that a quick taste is rarely enough, I’ve got my appetite for cruising well and truly back.


Images courtesy of Royal Caribbean/copyright MummyTravels