Q & A: Ships sure to delight small buccaneers

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. I'd like to take my children on a cruise but am concerned that they will find it claustrophobic and end up bored out of their minds. Are there any child-friendly cruises suitable for a family with children under 10? I have a son of six, and two daughters aged seven and nine. My husband and I would prefer something in the Caribbean, but would a short-haul destination be better for the children?

Q. I'd like to take my children on a cruise but am concerned that they will find it claustrophobic and end up bored out of their minds. Are there any child-friendly cruises suitable for a family with children under 10? I have a son of six, and two daughters aged seven and nine. My husband and I would prefer something in the Caribbean, but would a short-haul destination be better for the children?

Bev Rose, Hampton

A. As your children are under 10 (rather than tricky teens or oblivious babes in arms) they are the perfect age to make the most of cruise facilities, which are often now more "child-oriented" than "child-friendly". If you do decide to go for the Caribbean option, packages that combine both cruise and hotel accommodation will alleviate some of the hassle and fatigue of travelling long haul. You can spend a few days recovering from the flight before transferring to the cruise ship. For example, Disney (0870 2424910, www.disneycruise.co.uk) has a new nine-day cruise, including two days at Disney World and then seven days at sea, calling at Cay West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and, its very own island, Castaway Cay. The price is £1,599 for adults and £899 for children including full-board hotel and cabin accommodation (based on two adults and three children sharing) return flights, transfers and two-day passes for Disney World.

Disney has two identical 85,000-ton vessels (roughly the same height as the Empire State Building if you were to stand them on end) and each one has an entire deck's worth of space dedicated to children. Your children would have the option of joining the Oceaneer's Club (three- to nine-year-olds), a pirate-themed set-up where children get to do everything from dressing up as Captain Hook to acting out swashbuckling stories, to going on treasure hunts while anchored at Castaway Cay. As you would expect with such a top-of-the-range family experience, there is great attention to detail and the pool is even shaped like a certain mouse's head. All children's clubs and facilities are included in the price of the holiday and are open more or less 24 hours a day. Parents have the chance to enjoy grown-up pleasures such as adult-only restaurants or Broadway-style shows and can keep in touch with children via a personal pager.

Royal Caribbean (0800 018 2020, www.rccl.com), one of the world's largest cruise lines, saw a 31 per cent increase in under-18s sailing in the year 2000. In response the company decided to expand its year-round Adventure Ocean programme (catering for children aged three to 17) with longer shore excursions. Your son and youngest daughter would join the Explorers (six to eight years) and the oldest the Voyagers (nine to 11 years). The free "edu-tainment" programme presents educational activities, games, individual and team sports, art and performance. Travelling aboard Explorer of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, sailing the eastern Caribbean, prices start at £1,049 per adult and £350 per child (based on two adults and three children sharing an inside cabin). This includes return flights to Miami, transfers, a seven-night cruise of the eastern Caribbean (calling at Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas), a hotel room in Miami at either end of the cruise, port taxes and fees. Explorer of the Seas houses a rock-climbing wall, ice-skating rink, nine-hole golf course, oceanographic laboratories, four swimming pools, and the Royal Promenade running the length of the ship, lined with shops and restaurants, overlooked by the cruise industry's first inside cabins with a view.

If you would rather stay closer to home, P&O Cruises (020-7800 2222, www.pocruises.com) the four-ship, UK-based cruise fleet sailing from Southampton is led by the Aurora, a 76,000-ton, upmarket floating holiday camp. Your children would be able to join the Jumping Jacks club with its own deck space and indoor play area. The 16-night Ionia and Beyond cruise calls at Vigo (Spain), Dubrovnik, Corfu, Zakinthos, Athens and Palma before returning to Southampton. Fares start at £1,697 per adult (children travel free), which includes full board and all entertainment.

Q. We have three teenage children and have decided at the last minute to visit relatives in San Francisco for two to three weeks this August. Will we still be able to get flights and what kind of prices are we looking at for travel in August? Ideally we would want a fly-drive as we intend to do a bit of exploring as well.

Michael Allard, via e-mail

A.North America, like Europe, collectively packs away the school satchels and thinks about heading for the beach at this time of year, and California is one of the most popular destinations. Families make a beeline for Sea World in San Diego and for the wild expanses of beach fringed by the mighty Pacific Coast Highway, stretching 1,500 miles from Southern California up to Puget Sound in Washington state.

The good news is that you will still be able to find flights, but the availability will be for selected dates only, with the best availability for midweek travel. As your children are all over the age of 12, they will also each incur the full adult fare.

Arran Sutherland, Air Product Co-ordinator for Quest Travel suggests that flexibility is the key. "If you can be open-minded about both the dates on which you are prepared to travel and the airports to which you are willing to travel – that is, not restricting yourself to airlines that fly direct to California – you will have better luck securing a flight at a reasonable cost."

Quest Travel (020-8547 0403, www.questtravel.com) currently has return fares with carriers that fly direct, such as American Airlines, Virgin or British Airways, for around £530. Go indirect with someone like KLM (via Amsterdam) or Northwest Airlines (via Detroit or Minneapolis) and the price drops to around £500. Lower still are return fares with Canadian Airlines (via Toronto) for £472. Two week's car hire on top of that (with Hertz) would be another £364. The major American and European hubs are geared-up for transit passengers offering shorter transfer times.

However, Arran suggests you should still be able to find lower fares, even in August. "A good price for a return flight is between £300 and £400, but for these kind of fares you need to keep an eye out for last-minute deals." So check the classifieds or agents such as Quest Travel, Trailfinders (020-7937 5400) or Flightbookers (020-7757 2317) for last-minute special deals. Fly-drives will also increase your choice of travel dates. Booking a special IT (inclusive tour) fare that includes some sort of pre-booked ground arrangement may also reduce the cost of the flight. Airlines such as Virgin and American Airlines offer these deals, but again they tend to come up at the last minute, or (as in the case with Virgin) can only be booked a minimum of six weeks in advance.

For further information about travel and accommodation in California, contact California Tourism (020-7405 4746, www.gocalif.ca.gov).

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