Cruise 

Jane Archer takes a look at developments in the family cruise market, with a particular focus on the Med

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In less than a decade, cruise ships have changed from being family-friendly floating hotels to fun palaces at sea for children of all ages.

Worldwide, some 1.5 million youngsters aged 17 and under cruise each year, and the number is growing. But that leaves millions of families yet to discover the benefits of a holiday at sea.

There are the activities, of course, but a cruise has plenty of other benefits for parents. As well as being a very safe holiday, cruises offer great value because so much is included in the price – from kids’ clubs and entertainment to unlimited food in the buffet and dining room. That’s a big bonus for mum and dad, as they don’t have to shell out every time junior needs attention.

Soft drinks are extra on most ships but soda cards help to keep the cost down – Princess Cruises charges $5.18 per person per day (including gratuity) for unlimited fizzy drinks.

Families are also looked after when it’s time for bed. Most ships have cabins with up to four berths (using sofa beds or berths that fold away into the ceiling or wall to create the extra sleeping space) and low prices for the third and fourth person sharing.

Holland America Line, for instance, charges an average of £350 each on a seven or 10-night cruise. On a seven-night cruise in a balcony cabin on Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas on February 1, two people pay £1,269 each, while a third and fourth person pay £489 each.

Many cabins on Disney Cruise Line ships have five berths, and most have split bathrooms with a toilet and sink in one room and a sink and shower in the other.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Dream, Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze have deluxe oceanview rooms that hold up to five people.

Several cruise lines also have adjoining cabins, giving mum, dad and the kids room to spread out, or family suites.

Celebrity Cruises’ family veranda cabins, on its Solstice-class ships, have two bedrooms, as do the Royal Family Suites on Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager, Freedom and Oasis-class ships, which hold up to eight people. Presidential family suites on Freedom and Oasis-class vessels hold up to 14.

Norwegian Cruise Line has two-bedroom villas on Norwegian Epic that sleep up to six.

The kids are more interested in what they can do on a cruise. And there’s plenty. All the family-friendly cruise lines have kids’ and teen clubs that lay on age-related activities such as pizza-making, arts and crafts, pool games and discos from morning ’til night.

Mostly they are free (Norwegian charges on port days) but all have a late-night babysitting fee of around $6 per child per hour.

The clubs used to be the main draw for kids, but these days there is so much more. Carnival’s Magic, Breeze and Sunshine have ropes courses and water slides, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas and Freedom-class ships have FlowRider surf simulators, ice-skating rinks and rock-climbing walls. The Oasis-class ships have all that and also zip wires and full-size carousels.

 Cruise

Norwegian Breakaway has an aquapark with two Free Fall slides (you start standing up and are ‘dropped’ into the slide) and twin twister water slides. The ship also has a ropes course with swinging beams, nets and a plank that extends eight feet over the side of the ship.

There’s more of the same on the new Norwegian Getaway, which is sailing the Caribbean from Miami and costs from £6,742 including flights for two adults and two children aged two to 11 sharing a family balcony cabin for seven nights departing July 18.

Disney Cruise Line’s newest two ships have an AquaDuck ‘water coaster’ and ‘enchanted’ artwork that doubles as a detective game.

MSC Cruises’ MSC Preziosa, sailing the Mediterranean this summer, has a 120-metre long water slide, a Formula 1 racing car simulator and 4D cinema.