This could be the ultimate stress-free family holiday
The teenagers want a base with full amenities, you want a bit of culture. The answer? Take the resort to the sights on a cruise, says Suzanne Cadisch
Sunday 24 May 2009
A 12-night cruise out of Harwich suited bed-loving teens right from the start. They didn't have to be fresh for a long journey and they didn't even have to be that organised. It was a case of falling into the car with as much luggage as they liked, snoozing for a couple of hours en route to the port, and then falling into their cabin for a shower. Sorted.
Beginning a fabulous holiday like this was bliss for us, too. No nagging, no baggage weight restrictions (well, 200lb, so as good as), no hanging around airports, no transfers. Plus there was the prospect of being waited on hand and foot while our "hotel room" was transported around the Baltic to five glorious European capitals.
But first things first. With four full days at sea during the trip and every night on board, did our floating resort pass muster with the girls (one almost 16 and the other going on 18)? Absolutely. You just can't fail to be wowed by a ship like Royal Caribbean's 90,000-ton Jewel of the Seas and, for a teenager, what's not to like?
There are indoor and outdoor pools, sundecks, hot tubs, a gym, sports court, rock-climbing wall 200ft above the waves, arcade games, shops, West End-quality shows in a spectacular theatre. And you can order a burger or three (room service is free) while you overdose on Cartoon Network or watch movies in your cabin – which a smiling steward then cleans up for you.
On top of all that, there is a truly impressive free Adventure Ocean programme for under-18s, with activities for seven age groups, from babes in arms to 15-17-year-olds, giving parents and offspring of all ages real freedom to enjoy a holiday their way and making family cruising fantastic value.
A word of warning, though: while cruising and teenagers most definitely go together, pick your destination carefully. Admittedly, we were extremely unlucky with the weather when we travelled last August, but, even at its best, the Baltic probably wasn't the cleverest choice for teenage girls whose first summer commandment is "Thou shalt get a tan".
At least we never had to prise them away from the pool to come ashore with us. In Stockholm we gaped at the world's oldest warship, the Vasa, salvaged from the sea after 333 years and looking as if it had come straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. In Copenhagen we posed with the Little Mermaid and strolled around the Tivoli Gardens. In Oslo, where we woke to a castle outside our window, we marvelled at how the Kon Tiki raft could have made that famous Pacific crossing in 1947. We sipped warm Monk's Bride pastis on the cobbled streets of Estonia's medieval capital Tallinn, and we tasted reindeer while basking in the sunshine of Helsinki.
But the undoubted highlight of the trip was St Petersburg. Unless you have obtained your own Russian visa in advance of travel, the only way you can go ashore during the 35-hour stopover here is on official Royal Caribbean tours, which cost extra but proved excellent value. We booked as many excursions as we could cram into the two days.
Equipped with radio earphones, we received a stream of fascinating information from our passionate guides as we toured the Hermitage and its world-famous art treasures, rode Stalin's subway, shopped in local markets and, on day two, visited the breathtaking palaces at Pushkin and Peterhof.
Back on board, a recent Royal Caribbean innovation that suited us was open dining, where you can opt out of the rigid dinner seating system and make a daily booking for whatever time you like. And the food, of course, was fabulous.
Cruising has to be the ultimate in a stress-free family holiday. A ship like the Jewel of the Seas – 962ft long with a crew of 850 serving up to 2,500 passengers – can be all things to all people: join in or chill out, get fit or get fat, go see the sights or watch the world go by from your favourite on-board bar.
Just be prepared to fork out for a spray tan if you take teenage girls to the Baltic.
How to get there
Royal Caribbean International (0844 493 2061; royalcaribbean .co.uk) offers a 12-night cruise on board Jewel of the Seas to Scandinavia and Russia in July 2009 from £1,629 per person, based on two sharing a balcony cabin, and from £1,031 per person, based on two sharing an inside cabin. Booking a suite can be cost-effective for a family. Alcohol and branded soft drinks are extra. Shore excursions in St Petersburg cost from about £28. A day tour of Pushkin and Peterhof including lunch costs about £125 per person (£75 for under-12s).
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