There is a cruise for everyone, we are repeatedly told, and it is a style of holiday which is increasingly popular with British families. Cruise lines certainly pull out all the stops to vie for their slice of the family market. There are cartoon characters at breakfast, rock-climbing walls, ice rinks, simulated-wave surfing pools, giant waterslides and children's clubs.
On MSC Cruises (0844 561 1955; msccruises.co.uk) children sharing their parents' cabin pay only port charges – about £105 for a week on the Med this summer – and airfares. And Royal Caribbean has just launched the Royal Mums and Dads advice line (0844 417 0201; 9.30am to 2.30pm, Monday to Friday) to answer questions and allay doubts.
When choosing a family cruise, research what ship or line suits your needs and tastes. P&O is renowned for the quality of its children's clubs for ages two to 17, but you can't just go ashore and leave your offspring in them; at least one parent or guardian must stay on board, too. Princess (0845 075 0031; princess.com) is happy to take full charge of minors, but the minimum age for clubs is three years. (Most others start at two.)
Disney Cruise Line (0800 028 3179; disneycruise.disney.go.com) is baby-friendly, offering nappy-changing and feeding in the nursery for babies aged from three months.
Andrew Davies of Go Cruise has this advice: "If you are a family of four booking late, it could be more economical to take two cabins than one four-berth. Nearer departure, the price for two adults sharing goes down, but if a family cabin is available, child fares will have gone up. And any perks, such as on-board credit, are per cabin rather than per person."
P&O's family-focused Ventura sails to Portugal and Spain for 10 nights on a round trip from Southampton on 8 August. For two adults and two children in a family cabin the cost is from £5,002; in two cabins for two the cost is from £4,396 with parking and £100 on-board credit. Book with Go Cruise (01952 402301; gocruise.co.uk/ad).
A four-night fly-cruise from Barcelona on Disney Magic on 9 July with Virgin Holidays Cruises (0844 3084; virginholidayscruises.co.uk) is from £2,436 for two adults and a child and a baby sharing a cabin.
Independence of the Seas has a two-week no-fly cruise from Southampton to Portugal and Spain, departing on 27 July. From £5,716 for a family of four sharing.
Norwegian Epic (0845 201 8900; ncl.co.uk) sails the western Med from Barcelona on 14 July for a week. The cost is £1,014 per adult and from £888 per child (based on two adults and one or two children sharing) with flights.