Why cruise vacations are perfect for families

Why cruise vacations are perfect for families

by Courtney Woodruff
Stripes Europe

Snuggled up together on lounge chairs beneath a cloudless night sky, we passed bags of freshly popped corn between us as we gazed up at “Kung Fu Panda” on the big screen. It was easy to forget we were adrift somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea and that when we woke up the next morning, we’d be in Italy. I must be dreaming, I thought to myself, smiling blissfully as I looked over at my husband and then down at the sleepy boys between us.

No matter where you go, traveling with little ones is an adventure — and adventures are often exhausting. From planning to packing and toting around a seemingly endless amount of gear (strollers, toys, diapers, sippy cups, etc.) to maintaining meal and snack times, nap schedules and routines, I’ve learned from experience, the saying “parents often need a vacation after vacationing with kids” is peppered with truth. Cruises are perfect for families with little ones, and I think you — as a parent deserving a relaxing getaway you can enjoy with your family — will fall in love with them just like I did.

Spend quality time with your family as you travel.

Instead of spending countless hours fielding questions like “are we there yet?” in the car or doing your best to keep little ones entertained as you wait around in airports, cruises give you the opportunity to spend quality time with your family as you move from one destination to another. Take a dip in the pool, dine at your leisure, catch a show or take a catnap, if you need one — all while en route to the next stop on your vacation!

Two words: kids’ camps.

To be honest, we felt a little uneasy about leaving our boys at the kids’ camp aboard the ship in the beginning, but it ended up being one of the highlights of their cruise experience … and ours. They couldn’t wait to head to camp to play with their new friends and enjoy the many activities the well-trained staff had planned for them. From Pirate and Princess Night to ocean-themed art projects to kids-only celebrations, there was something exciting to look forward to each day. In turn, they got to skip out on the shore excursions that would have bored them to tears, anyway. Win-win.

Reconnect with your spouse.

Military life often requires us to be separated from our servicemembers for weeks, months and often even longer for training exercises and deployments. While your little ones are having the time of their lives at kids’ camps, take advantage of the rare opportunity to spend some quality one-on-one time with your spouse. Rekindle the romance with dinner for two at a nice restaurant, sneak away for a couple’s massage at the spa, book an unforgettable shore excursion you can enjoy together, or spend a few hours simply lying by the pool side by side with frosty beverages in hand. These moments will become priceless memories you can look back on the next time duty calls you to be apart.

Relax like it’s your job.

Aboard the ship, the crew covers many of the daily tasks and responsibilities that take time away from your family, like cooking, cleaning and providing transportation, so you have more hours to unwind with your spouse and kids. Many cruise lines even offer laundry and dry cleaning services, so you won’t have a mountain of dirty clothes to sort through when it’s time to head home (score!). Use this break to relax like it’s what you’re being paid to do. Savor the warm meals prepared by the kitchen staff, give in to your little ones’ requests to splash around in the pool a while longer, and enjoy climbing in to freshly turned down sheets every night.

Activities the whole family can enjoy together.

The memories I have of the four of us playing in the pool, staying up late to watch “dive in” movies, and twirling around on the dance floor to live music are my favorite souvenirs of our first family cruise. No matter your age or personality, fun abounds on cruise ships for parents and little ones alike. Magic shows, concerts, meet-and-greet events with favorite characters, poolside activities, games and sporting equipment are just a few of the many offerings for onboard entertainment. Check the ship’s itinerary to find out what’s going on each day, and give your kids a chance to have a say in what you decide to do together.

Budget-friendly rates.

When you consider that cruise packages include the price of accommodations, entertainment and transportation to and from each port of call — and, in many cases, meals and child care, too — the overall price is hard to beat. For families with little ones, it is even more budget friendly in terms of the amount of time spent getting to and from each destination. By choosing a cruise over a long road trip or a series of flights across Europe, you can save money while also making the most of precious vacation days.

None of us were ready to leave when the time came for us to say goodbye to the impressive ocean liner that became our home away from home for eight days. I’d never imagined being able to visit seven cities in three countries with little ones in tow … and feel relaxed and rejuvenated after the experience.

Before we’d even set foot on dry land, my 5-year-old son looked up at me with a determined look on his face.

“Mom, can I have a cruise for my birthday?”

I tried my best not to laugh as I considered his request.

“We’ll see,” I replied, grinning as I squeezed his hand reassuringly. I couldn’t help thinking, maybe I’ll ask for one, too.

Keep your eyes peeled for seasonal European sailings and special military rates on these family-friendly cruise lines:

• Carnival: www.carnival.com
• Disney Cruise Line: disneycruise.disney.go.com
• MSC Cruises: www.msccruises.com
• Norwegian Cruise Line: www.ncl.com
• P&O Cruises: www.pocruises.com
• Princess Cruises: www.princess.com
• Royal Caribbean: royalcarribbean.com
• Thomson: www.thomson.co.uk/cruise

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