When Auckland-based Jenny Spillane and her family received an invitation to go to a wedding in England in May 2010, they jumped at the chance to take their two young daughters, eight-year-old Eleanor and six-year-old Nathalie, to take in some of the amazing sights in Europe.
Going on a cruise just didn’t cross their minds. It was only when friends told them about a cruise they had taken in Europe the year before with their own young family that Jenny began to see it as a possibility.
She says laughing that she and her husband Charles had always regarded the cruise experience as “a bit Hi de Hi”.
“We didn’t like the idea of compulsory fun,” she adds.
“But these friends said it’s brilliant. You unpack once, you cruise at night, you wake up and you’re at your destination in the morning.”
With that in mind, Jenny began to investigate cruise options. The cruise they ended up choosing was a seven-night Mediterranean Cruise with Royal Caribbean International.
“It was brilliant. We had a limited time and we needed a cruise that fitted our departure times because we were going to the wedding. And we wanted to do some of Europe but didn’t want to spend all our time on trains. So it just fitted the bill,” says Jenny.
The ship, the five-star, 3000-passenger Voyager of the Seas, with mostly British and American passengers on-board, sailed from Barcelona and stopped at Naples, Rome (Civitavecchia), Florence and Pisa (Livorno), Nice (Villefranche), Provence (Marseilles) and back to Barcelona.
The family made their own travel arrangements around the cruise itself. Flying into Barcelona from New Zealand, they then spent a week on the cruise and flew easy Jet to London for the wedding. After that they went by Eurostar to Paris (including a trip to Paris’s Disney World) and flew back to New Zealand.
Because Jenny booked early, she was able to get two adjoining Balcony Staterooms for the family. This meant they had their own private balcony, a sitting room area with TV and telephone, a refrigerator and private bathroom and shower.
She rated the rooms highly and said they were serviced every day.
“Every night we got back to the room and they had done the origami thing with the towels and the chocolates on the pillow,” she adds.
“We slept with the curtains open [because we were travelling at night] and you got the moonlight.”
Because the family spent so much time sight-seeing, they didn’t have time to do justice to many of the ship’s facilities. These included everything from a rock-climbing wall and ice-skating rink, a movie theatre, shops, cafes and restaurants, a swimming pool with a water slide, a library, a casino, a sports court for basketball and volleyball, a night club and an Adventure Ocean Youth Programme.
The family ate in the formal dining room every night which meant they had to dress smartly. All the food was included in the cost of the cruise apart from a few speciality restaurants but drinks were not. They bought drinks packages, which gave them one bottle of wine a day and soda for the girls, but Jenny explains they were “tripped up” because they ended up buying too many drinks packages but didn’t use all of them.
“You live and learn. When we do it again we’ll do it differently,” she says philosophically.
They also had to pay extra for the ship’s shore excursions. Jenny says she balked initially at the cost but is really pleased they went on them.
“They weren’t cheap. When I looked at them I thought ‘oh my god’, but they were worth it.
“They were excellent. Really, really high quality. We just saw some amazing stuff.”
She says there were about ten shore excursion options you could choose from, so if you enjoyed art you could do an art-based excursion or if you enjoyed cooking and food you could do a pizza making course in a restaurant. You could choose full-day or half- day, whichever you preferred. Or you could just go it alone.
Jenny says the best thing about the excursions was that you didn’t waste time.
“For example when we went to Rome for the day, it just so happened it was a public holiday and St Peter’s Basilica was closed. The Pope was giving an audience [and the square was full of people] so we would have stood there for hours waiting to get in, not knowing that the whole thing was shut. When you have a guide, they take you somewhere else.
“Particularly with the kids, it made life so much easier,” she adds.
As far as taking the kids on holiday, Jenny can’t think of anything better because it was low-stress and there was no cooking or dishes.
“It was a holiday for everyone.”
But she advises that you have to compromise about what you end up doing.
“I had a vision that after seeing Pompeii in the morning, we’d stroll through Naples and find a little pizzeria for lunch.”
But they revised their plans when it was obvious the girls were hot, tired and hungry.
“We could have had a family argument trying to find a really over-priced pizzeria in Naples or we could go upstairs [on the ship] to the ‘all you can eat’ buffet, which we know the kids like, and we’ve already paid for. So we ended up doing that.”
Jenny concedes that Nathalie, at six-years-old, was a bit too young to appreciate what she was seeing. But Eleanor, at eight -years-old really got it and walked with the guide asking questions.
“But they weren’t blown away by it like we were. But now we’ll see something on TV and they’ll say ‘that was what it was like in Pompeii’. It still triggers stuff.”
Nathalie, who had her sixth birthday on the ship, was spoilt with a cake and a rendition of Happy Birthday by some of the crew and passengers on the day.
What were her favourite parts of the cruise ship ?
“The food and the ice skating show and the pool,” she says with a big smile on her face.
She also had a half-day at the kids club where she entered a talent contest.
“She had a ball, she met kids from all over the world,” says Jenny.
And although the ship is large, with 3000-plus passengers, the family didn’t really feel crowded.
“You don’t feel like you’re one of the masses and you have your own waiter who is very attentive. He was lovely to the girls, just delightful. The service was excellent as it’s all about the tips at the end as they survive on these. You just put it in your budget,” Jenny explains.
Jenny couldn’t praise the cruise ship experience highly enough.
“It’s a low-stress way of seeing some beautiful places. As my husband said, there’s no divorce-inducing arguments driving around roundabouts trying to find accommodation. You unpack once, you’re in the same bed every night.
“The service was excellent. There’s probably cheaper ways [of going on holiday] but for the convenience it’s just such a lovely way of doing things with the family.
Would they go again ?
“We would definitely do it again. We are going to do it again. Maybe Scandinavia next time”.
Thanks to Jenny for sharing her family experience and photos. Story by Rachel Sturges
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