Firstly dear readers, thanks for being so sweet about all our cocktail and sunset laden updates. As you may know, the Alexanders were lucky enough to be chosen as Carnival Cruise Line’s funnest family.
We have just returned from our first cruise, around the Mediterranean on board Carnival Sunshine, for the first 5 days we had a film crew with us which was a real giggle. It was all so utterly amazing I had no idea where to start, however, I know I was unconvinced about cruising before I left, so I thought I would ask my readers and facebook friends to remind me what first timers want to know about cruising. You did not disappoint.
The atmosphere on board
There is one thing that has always put me off the thought of cruises and that’s being trapped on a ship with loads of people and not being able to get any quiet time to chill out without heaps of people around me. Is it really like that?! Annie, Mammasaurus
Believe me Annie, I am the first person to think I will go stir crazy, I need my space. I was really surprised therefore, at how easy it was to lose the other 3000 people on board. One night Mr A and I sat completely alone in Serenity, the adults only chill out area with the hammocks, sipping G and Ts and watching the waves, another night we had the Red Frog Rum Bar, and the rock singer doing requests, all to ourselves
You could always get in a hot tub, sometimes have it to yourself, there was always a quiet spot on deck. Inside there were so many bars, lounges and entertainment options to explore. The library and spa were very peaceful hiding places. .
If you need space from the kids, there is Camp Carnival kids’ club where kids can even sleep over until 3am. If you want a break from dining you can order room service for free.
Even our stateroom felt like it gave us space, I could escape to the balcony and the kids to their bunks. Watching the ship sail into port from the balcony each morning it was just me and the ocean, and the odd seagull or fishing boat!
And is it a bit like the Love Boat with lots of badly dressed old men schmoozing the captain?
Helen, Actually Mummy
Ha ha, you crack me up Helen! Travelling outside of the main school summer holidays we found that the majority of our travel companions were American retired couples. Do you know what? They were so lovely to us. There were also young couples, groups of friends and families and people from all over the world.
We never felt out of place or in a minority, the atmosphere is very welcoming, everyone wants to have fun and there is plenty of space for everyone to do that. The children made friends with children their own age in kids club. They were also spoilt rotten and fussed over by all the grandparents on board.
Do you have to get dressed up all the time?!
No. The ship has two formal nights, formal doesn’t have to mean a cocktail dress and tux though, smart casual is fine too. The kids were less keen and went to a party at Camp Carnival instead, but It was a great opportunity for a grown ups night out, me in my Boden number and Mr A in his wedding suit, and to get some photos taken by a professional. This was taken by a Greek lady behind us in the queue, but the professional shots we bought were amazing, the prints of these cost us about $12.
How many places did you stop/visit and how long did you have in each place
Amanda via Twitter
Our 12 day Mediterranean cruise started in Venice. We had 2 days at sea and on the other days stopped at ports in or near: Dubrovnik, Athens, Izmir, Sicily, Naples, Rome, Tuscany and Marseilles. We finished in Barcelona. You had full day in each port, so maybe 8am-5pm or 7am-4pm. The sail away party was amazing.
Is it knackering for the kids visiting all those ports? Can you relax at any point?
Helen, Actually Mummy
Carnival offer a wide range of excursions in each port, they are rated easy to strenuous, range from a couple of hours to a full day and some are specially for families. Many ports have a Carnival shuttle bus from the port to the town so you can wander at your own pace.
Yes it can be tiring, but it was so amazing! How cool to stick your finger in a hole in the Acropolis, to pretend to be a gladiator in the Colosseum, to wave at Gondoliers in Venice, to have a Greek taxi driver take you to see the changing of the guard, to eat pizza in Naples, to pretend to be a statue in Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Rome was by far the most tiring and whine inducing, but oh my, it was worth it!
We had two fun days at sea to break it up, where we could just chill and make the most of the fun ship facilities. It is entirely up to you what you do when the ship is in port, you don’t even have to leave the ship! Some ports like Naples, Athens, Marseilles and Dubrovnik you can come away feeling like you have had a great taster of, in half a day. Some cities, like Rome and Florence, require a full day trip to do them justice. We decided to opt out of Tuscany as we had been before, and were tired after a full day in Rome, we had the boat nearly to ourselves, which was a treat!
Switch on the fun: family activities
Do the kids get bored on the ship when you’re sailing, or is there enough to keep them entertained?
Helen, Actually Mummy
Mine loved the Sport Square Helen, it had mini golf, table football, basketball, table tennis, shuffleboard, twister, giant chess. Then there is the waterworks, a swimming pool and 3 giant slides and the rope walk which L was big enough, but not quite brave enough for! Camp Carnival kids club is also open every day, day and night, so perfect if you fancy a bit of time chilling as a couple in the adults only Serenity area. More on Camp Carnival later!
Is there enough for toddlers/pre-schoolers to do as it always looked like my kids might be a little young for a lot of the activities.
Cat, Yellow Days
My youngest is 4 and it was more than perfect for him, he has not stopped talking about it. He was just tall enough to ride on the waterslides. Toddlers could enjoy splashing in the waterworks, smaller slides, playing mini golf and the pirate ship playground. Camp Carnival caters from age 2 and the selection of toys for toddlers was brilliant. We took some of our own toys and games for our stateroom/travel.
Do you pay extra for the activities?
Rebecca, Here Come the Girls
The movies, shows and all the sports activities are completely free. The only thing you pay for is the spa, arcade games and casino.
It’s a kids club, it’s the place on ship where kids are in charge!
I’d like to know how they contact you if there is a problem, whether the children can go in and out as they like or if they are tied to timed sessions, whether they serve food, if they do a session where they look after children while adults eat.
Jennifer, Jennifer’s Little World
Parents of children 5 and under and children with special needs are given priority to a ship’s mobile and thereafter they are allocated on a case by case basis. Ours did ring once, G needed some clean clothes and refused to put on the spare ones he’d been offered. We tended to pop our heads in as we moved about the ship, only to be told to ‘Go Away’ by our kids, they were having too much fun.
There is a daily schedule of activities, but children can come and go when you/they like, although parents must specify whether older children are allowed to sign themselves in and out.
The activities were creative and lots of fun. They were educational and linked to the port, for example drawing a Gondolier in Venice, weaving a Turkish carpet, making a gladiator’s shield and even making a light up 3D volcano after our visit to Sicily! The leaders are experienced and well qualified, this is a serious educational establishment, far from the gang of hungover students on a gap year I’ve always (unfairly) associated with the words ‘kids club abroad’.
Hasbro partners with the Camp Carnival programme so the range of toys and games on offer is, as you can imagine, vast.
There were also opportunities for parents and children to play together during the cruise, our chance to try out the facilities! We made bears, played board games and took part in trick or treating. All the Camp Carnival spaces were extremely modern, spotlessly clean and jam packed with great toys and resources.
On sea days Camp Carnival closed only for lunch, on port days Camp Carnival was closed for an hour before dinner. From 6pm children could meet the leaders in the Lido Bistro and eat with their friends before returning to Camp Carnival for games and activities followed by a party or movie night. On the nights we did this we helped them choose what they wanted to eat and then left to have dinner in another restaurant ourselves.
Children can also stay on the ship while adults explore the port and have lunch with the Camp Carnival team, I was torn, while mine wanted to do this, I wanted them to see the world!
Is there a creche for the night time programme?
Carolin, Mummy Alarm
Yes and it is marvellous! A mix of stories, video games, crafts, sports, games. There were often themes, like Pirates, Olympics, or parties like Halloween or the Glow Stick Parties. My two especially loved the parties and the amazing goody bags. By 10pm a movie would go on, so those who wanted to, could drift off with blankets and pillows. Children can stay until 3am.
Do you get charged a flat fee for the kids club, or can you pick and choose and get charged for what you use?
Helen, Kiddy Charts
Camp Carnival was complimentary until 10pm each day which was just amazing. After then it was $6.75 per hour per child plus 15% gratuity, charged by the half hour. The two parties were $13 per child from 10-12pm.
What are the age groups – last year on holiday my two got split up because they fell into different age ranges
Mine are 4 and 7 so were technically in different groups, but ended up spending lots of time together as the two younger groups often joined up. They were also physically near, so could see each other across the room. Staff were sympathetic to sibling divides, although, to be fair, my two enjoyed the opportunity to have time apart as much as being together!
Switching on the entertainment, grown ups
Did you ever get “cabin fever” or were there so many things to do you didn’t have chance to get bored?
There was no time whatsoever to get cabin fever! If anything the kids went to Camp Carnival so we could spend more time resting in our cabin 😉
Did you get to know many people on the ship or did you all keep to your own family units? I mean, were there activities run on the ship that got you all together or were you left to your own devices? And were people friendly?
It is entirely up to you. We chatted informally to people on excursions, at the bar and there was lots of friendly banter in the piano bar, which we loved. Our fellow passengers were very friendly and very welcoming of children.
There are organised quizzes, game shows, art history talks, karaoke, bingo and exercise classes, but only if you want to join in. Mr A made some friends one night he went out alone, including Cruise Director Jaime who was awesome at her job:
We caught three of the Liquid Lounge Playlist Productions, Epic Rock (we might have seen this rock anthem experience three times it was so good) Motor City an RnB show, and Studio VIP inspired by the New York City nightlife of the 1970s.
We went to see Lester Bibbs in the Punchliner Comedy club, he is an amazing performer, although the humour was a little blue for me in my prudish ‘no sex please we’re British’ way, he does do family friendly shows and was a great laugh when we bumped into him at the Alchemy bar afterwards. The great thing about the ship is all the staff are so friendly.
But we kept going back to the piano bar, there is something so magic about lots of random people sipping cocktails around the piano, requesting songs and trying to sing along. Seth the pianist can play over 500 songs and does great banter, so it really was a place to go back to.
He called us Rikkus and Peggy, and coped with Rik’s requests for Tenacious D and played things for my friends on Instagram. We liked Seth lots.
Dining on board
I was wondering about meals, are there set times like in a hotel for breakfast and dinner?
Jess, via facebook
Is it really crowded and busy? Do you have to sit with others every meal time and dress up. I always imagine having to change outfits so much.
Emma, Emma and 3
We were given our own choice of dining time for the restaurant, but you don’t have to eat there, there are lots of dining options! So at 6pm, our table and our waiter was always waiting for the four of us. They were very accommodating if you want to dine at a different time. The only other guests at our table were my trademark double and G and T, and Mr A’s white wine, which would arrive, as if by magic, minutes later. Food is inclusive, but you pay for your own drinks.
The Maitre D would always say a quick hello and ask us about our day, the staff are incredibly attentive and the children were given lots of focus too. They got colouring books and a kids menu and took well to the routine of the same table and familiar staff faces. There were just two formal nights where you could dress up, which was great fun, the rest of the time you wear whatever you would normally wear on holiday.
Here we are dressed up on a formal night, the food on the other hand, was this lovely every night!
The restaurant has a fixed menu and a range of daily specials inspired by the day’s port, plus a veggie special, low fat options and something daring – Mr A tried frogs legs and alligator. Of course there are more down to earth options to suit a range of palates too, and kids’ meals.
You don’t have to dine formally of course, there is the Lido Bistro with an amazing self-service restaurant, Guy’s burger joint, burrito bar, a snack bar, 24 hour Italian take away pizzeria and then there is room service, all of which is completely free, we did this after some of our longer day trips. It is amazing how easily you can find a completely empty space on deck, or indoors.
What’s the food like for vegetarians? What did you have for breakfast?
Becky, A Beautiful Space
I thought the vegetarian options were really innovative and nutritionally balanced in the restaurant Becky, tofu steak and lentil filo tarts for example. In the self service Lido Bistro there were veggie options like stuffed tomatoes, tarts and pilafs, there was an amazing salad bar with a selection of beans, olives and interesting salads.
Breakfast in the Lido Bistro was awesome and the best bit was all the family could have whatever they wanted, from Mr A’s full English to the kids’ boiled eggs and pancakes and maple syrup, to my rye bread, cottage cheese and fruit salad (Yeah okay, so I only did that one twice, by the end I was on full veggie breakfast followed by banana bread!)
For a small supplement you can eat at Cucina del Capitano (the ship’s captain is from Sicily) I expected pizza and pasta but what we got was much more imaginative, risotto balls, amazing bean stew. Meat and fish for la mia famiglia. We also got a beautiful view of Athens as we sailed away and one of those meals where you don’t know where one person’s meal starts and the other’s ends. Lots of sharing, wine, and for the kids, colouring and scrapbooking!
Mr A and I dined at JiJi’s Asian kitchen, which was fabulous. JiJi means Lucky, so whoever rolls the right number on the dice gets to take charge of ticking the table’s food choices on the clipboard (me in this case). As if to make up for the lack of vegetarian options on the menu, the chef kept on sending out more and more vegetarian options for us to try. They were all utterly amazing. The presentation too, is superb, and we even got fortune cookies!For a $35 supplement you can eat in the Farenheit Steakhouse. Mr A wanted to indulge his inner carnivore. I thought the vegetarian options would be poor, but the chef created some amazing food, just for me. It is a really, wonderful romantic dining experience (even with a film crew sat in the booth next to you, a microphone in your cleavage and its battery pack down your jeans). The waiting staff are really knowledgeable about food and wine. When you return to your stateroom there is a complimentary macaroon each waiting for you in a little box.
Your stateroom (cruise ships have staterooms, not cabins)
Can you chill out in the room for an evening if you want a change of scenery?
Jen, Love Chic Living
Of course! I think you would be so impressed by the stateroom design Jen. As the kids had bunks and we had a balcony, it always felt as if each family member had their own space to chill in. Our bed was huge and our luggage and possessions soon disappeared into the really spacious and well planned storage. Our stateroom steward kept on top of our chaos, he stopped to chat whenever we saw him and our room was tidied during breakfast and dinner so we always came back to a really restful space.
You can order room service for free, or bring back a self service meal from the restaurant. Our favourite was hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies as a post-siesta pick me up!
Are there enough activities and things to see and do for a 7 year old? I worry Bella would just want to get to the next place all the time. Also what are the cabins like for a family of 3?
Louise, Team Lloyd
Louise, Miss L is 7 and I can hand on heart say it was utterly perfect for her. Between swimming, playing indoor and outdoor games, visits to Camp Carnival and the odd bit of cartoons in our stateroom there wasn’t time to think about where we were headed next!
One day she decided she wanted a ‘Mummy morning’ so we had a swim and a race down the water slides, watched a bit of Jail House Rock from a sun lounger (she has been reading a book about Elvis) then had hot chocolate in the hot tub. Then Daddy took over and took her to the arcades and shops while I played mini golf, shuffleboard and pirates on the play pirate ship with Mr G.
There was so much to do on ship it was actually the reverse problem, she didn’t want to get off! But a promise of having her dinner with her new friends at Camp Carnival when we got back from our day out usually did the trick.
Regarding families of 3 or 5, I asked Lucy from Carnival about this:
We offer accommodation for all types of families over a broad range of cabins including inside, ocean view, balcony and suites, these will fit families of 3 comfortably. For families of 5, we offer ocean view cabins that are larger in size which house two bathrooms, which is ideal for larger families to travel at lower costs.
Health and safety ahoy!
Are there really enough life boats in case something goes wrong?
Carolin, Mummy Alarm
This was stressed at the safety briefing which you attend before the ship sets sail, where everyone is allocated a Muster station and a lifeboat number. We could see them being serviced and safety checked regularly from our cabin. They are actually huge when you get up close, they have covers and are un-tippable, a far cry from the little rowing boat of my imagination!
Is it safe for toddlers? Always have visions of him managing to fling himself overboard somehow!
This was my fear with my 4yo. Of course ultimately, you need to take care, as with everything involving toddlers. However, the doors onto promenades or balconies are too heavy for a toddler to open, and the walls on deck are very high as you can see in the picture above. You can also lock your balcony door at the top.
Do you get seasick?
Sarah, via facebook and Vicki, Honest Mum
I do normally on small boats and ferry crossings, but on a big cruise ship I didn’t feel the slightest bit sick. I took seabands and tablets, but I didn’t need them – bonus! You do feel movement, but it is soothing rather than rocking because the ship is so huge. Occasionally it made me a bit sleepy and Mr G fell asleep on his chair a couple of times in the restaurant, but that could equally have been due to late nights and too much fun.
The ship does most of its travel at night while you are sleep, so during the days at sea and early evening the ship moves at a slow and steady pace. I often woke up as we sailed into port, I think as the ship slowed down and turned, but then I would leap up, grab my robe and watch the new city appear from the balcony!
But how much is it?
You all asked this!
Over to Lucy from Carnival again…
Prices start from around £249 per person. An example of a 7 night sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida on board the Carnival Sunshine next year during kids Summer Holidays start from as low as £489 per person (based on 16th August 2014). Prices are cruise only.
Can you send me a sunrise?
Mari, Mari’s World
Certainly, I thought you might like Naples?
Look out for my posts on the excursions, they really were life changing.
If you are reading this and still have questions please leave them in the comments, be sure to leave your email and my reply will be automatically emailed to you, or tweet me @aresidence.