Friday, 17 October 2014

It's not quite Howard's Way is it ?

I've been a bit off radar this week, but I do have a very good reason. I was on a cruise ship. In case you're wondering how I got home so quickly I'll clarify that. I was invited onto the ship, but we didn't make it to the Caribbean (sad face). I did, however, get fed to within an inch of my life - I didn't need to eat until after 1pm the next day I was still so full !

The view from the lifts is amazing !
It would have been great to actually visit the Caribbean, but it was still pretty great to be invited by Royal Caribbean to have a nosey around the biggest cruise ship in the world. The Oasis of the Seas was in Southampton this week, so while they boarded actual passengers a few of us were invited on board to sample some of the delights of a cruise. I have never been on one before and haven't seriously considered booking to go on one as a family as the only people I know who have been on and enjoyed a cruise are my in-laws and my elderly neighbours. In my mind it's a pastime for the retired and not for families with children. That's exactly why they wanted people like me to come aboard and change our minds about what cruising is like.

Not a shopping mall but the main promenade
So first up the ship is absolutely massive - the main promenade is twice the size of any other cruise ship and it's like being inside a shopping mall rather than at sea. It took us a while to board, but that was only because so many passengers were checking in super early so they could peruse the ship and take it all in. We were assured that it's actually a process that would take no more than 15 minutes in real life conditions. Security is like at an airport so you do have to walk through arches and provide photo ID before boarding.

King Julian serving at lunch 
Luscious lunch 

It's Alex the lion !
Once on board we were given lunch at Giovanni's. There are a lot of food outlets included in the price, but Giovannie's is one of the restaurants that requires an additional cover charge.  The charge is actually very reasonable, the food was delicious and the service just wonderful. It's not somewhere I'd eat often, but would be great for a special meal. While we were eating our starters we spotted these characters who joined us for photos and even came to see us at the table. I have to admit I was more than a little star struck !
Touch screen guide

This is a wall mounted guide that has a touch screen so you can see where on the ship you are, where you want to go and what activities are on that day. I've mentioned the enormity of the ship and it is a concern that you might get lost or - horror of horrors lose your child. You are never more than a few feet away from a member of staff and they are very helpful and friendly. If you lose a child you notify one of them and the entire staff on the ship stop what they are doing and search their area. Apparently it takes no more than 3 minutes to locate a lost child on board.

Trevor the fresh juice man
One of the things that I love about going on holiday is the relaxation, the fresh fruit and the opportunity to unwind. On board there is a very well equipped gym where you can do spin classes and you can work out from early morning to 1am !! We also had a mini treatment in the Elemis Spa and that would be one of my favourite places to visit I can tell you. After a workout and a relaxing treatment I always look forward to a refreshing drink of some kind. Trevor is the man who can help make magic happen. I asked for a drink based on pineapple and he created something of beauty out of pineapple, banana, orange and (as he told me conspiratorially and with a twinkle in his eye) "a little bit of peach." It was heavenly !!

Lilting music 
There is a lot for adult passengers with on board entertainment including live shows and we were serenaded by a band that included steel pans to get us into the Caribbean feel. I was interested to see what was available for children though as my son is aged 4 and I couldn't imagine what would keep him occupied and enable me to relax while on a cruise. The kids' club is a series of rooms that have age appropriate activities including science experiments, sports, arts and crafts. It's clean, well set out and staff are trained and first aid qualified. You can leave your children safely and know they are being cared for.

Outdoor pool fun 
Kids' club playroom 

My major concern was that as I have a very active child I wasn't sure there would be enough for my son to do that would stop him going stir crazy. Then we went outside and I saw the amazing sports deck with a number of fun pools, hot tubs for grown ups, crazy golf and the zipline that is included in the activities package (as is the flow rider) and you can go on it as many times as you like. In good weather it would be amazing to spend the day outside having fun swimming, playing and being active and might go some way towards counteracting the overeating that can happen on a cruise. I did a zipline along the top of the ship - I wasn't sure why I agreed to it, but as I zipped along over the carousel I was not at all scared and actually enjoyed it :)

Enormous starter
Decadent dessert 

When you talk to anyone about cruises the topic of food is never far away. There is a lot of it and it is pretty much inevitable that you will eat more than you intend to as there is so much on offer. Our food was amazing and I genuinely didn't need to eat the next day as it was so filling. There is a wide variety of food outlets to try and some are included and others require an additional charge. I did wonder what my son would make of the food, but there is so much choice I'm sure we'd find something that he would enjoy on board. Also with a cruise that makes frequent stops we could go ashore and try different cuisines in the ports.

The zipline was great fun
Overall I did rethink my preconceptions about the kind of people who go on a cruise. I mean who on earth would have predicted that with my propensity for seasickness and fear of heights I would willingly clamber onto a zipline and career along the 15th floor of the ship way above the decks ? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we would consider booking a cruise as a family. I'm not sure I'd like to be at sea for days at a time, but a Mediterranean cruise with stops at different destinations every day might appeal. Having seen it in real life I can see what an amazing experience it could be for children to enjoy.

Disclosure: Royal Caribbean kindly invited me and some other Mumsnetters on board to experience what a cruise has to offer for families. I was not paid for this review.


  1. Wow, it looks amazing! We are actually booked to go on the Allure of the Seas next May which is an almost identical ship I believe, so seeing all these photos and hearing some real opinions is fab. We are going from Barcelona for a week long Mediterranean cruise so there's an option for you! We are also going on another Royal Carribean cruise on the Freedom of the Seas in a few weeks and I can't wait. I had always thought that cruises weren't for me, but we've been on two now and they've been brilliant, there is always something to do and I'd definitely recommend cruising as a family holiday, it's a really good way of seeing lots of places and a really relaxed way of travelling. We've not had much use out of the kids clubs yet as they are still quite little and can be a bit shy in new places, but there have still been family activities organised and I'm hoping that we might get more use out of it this time.

    1. Hi Jen,
      Yes the Allure is it's sister ship so pretty much the same thing. I was blown away by the sheer size of it and how much there is to see and do. It would be easy to miss so much of it on a short cruise I imagine. I'm pleased you have had a sneak preview of the facilities as I find knowing a bit about a holiday helps me manage my stress about my son not enjoying himself.
      I agree about kids clubs as he isn't the best at playing with strangers and prefers to be with us most of the time which means we have to take it in turns to go to the gym or the spa (in my case the latter more than the former !)
      Have a fabulous time on your hols - you sound like experienced cruisers now :)
      S xx