Thursday, 8 July 2010

Kids Cruise Control - the perfect way to see the Caribbean

A PERFECT arch of gleaming castor sugar sand framed a sparkling azure sea. A swaying palm tree or two formed the perfect backdrop to the secluded bay.
Smiling, I watched my six-year-old son dart in and out of the waves while my nine-month-old baby played at my feet. It was totally silent except for the squeals of my little boy as the salty surf sprayed his golden skin and the clink of ice in my unpronounceable cocktail.
‘Absolutely perfect,’ I murmured, taking a sip of fruity punch. ‘Where are we again?’ My husband threw back his head and laughed. Then he shrugged. Neither of us had a clue.
Not because we’d been hit on the head with a coconut or had heatstroke. It’s just that we were in the middle of a Caribbean cruise visiting 10 of the most beautiful islands in the world.
And today was just another day in another paradise. The list of places we’d visited so far was a must-see whistle-stop tour for the rich and famous – Barbados, St Vincent, Aruba, Bonaire and Catalina Island.
Each of them was beautiful and two – Bonaire and Catalina - rivalled the Maldives with their warm, transparent seas and talcum powdery white beaches.
There were still plenty more places to explore, including Tortola, St Lucia, Dominica, St Maarten, and Grenada. Today, we finally worked out, we were in Antigua.
It was stunning with its 350 pink-white beaches – one for nearly every day of the year – and lush tropical hills. But these gorgeous islands were just the backdrop to our five-star family holiday.
The real star of the show was a giant ship, the P&O Ventura, our luxurious home for two weeks. It’s a floating palace with every need catered for and then some. There are nine restaurants from casual American dining to Marco Pierre White’s exclusive Italian eaterie, The White Room on the top deck.
There’s also a casino, spa, gym, shops, florist, library, 12 bars, two swimming pools, medical centre, and, most importantly for us, a kiddy club. Don’t get me wrong – we wanted to spend every minute of our holiday having fun in the sun with our children but we know our son, Deme.
He loves making new friends. ‘Can I go and play with other children on the ship?’ he begged as soon as we boarded at Barbados. And so we enrolled him in the Surfers club for 5-8 year olds at Jumping Jacks in The Reef. ‘Cool,’ Deme declared as soon as he spotted the play stations, indoor and outdoor games (they have an entire deck and their own swimming pool) and the other children his age.
From then on it was a struggle to persuade him to spend any time with us. ‘But Muuuum, it’s Parachute games and Elephant footie,’ he complained whenever I begged him to join us for meals. They could play, eat and even sleep in the kiddy club, which was open from 9am – 10.30pm.
Perfect in theory, but in reality we saw the Caribbean and lost a son. Luckily, I had our baby Anais for company. She was too young to go into the kiddy club, though there was a fully-stocked play room for babies to use supervised.
There was a supply of baby food, a cot and even a buggy to use on board. And there was a night nursery from 6pm for all children aged over six months so us weary parents could dine in peace while Noddy read them bedtime stories. (Mums definitely go to Ventura!)
 
Our suite was family friendly too. It had an ensuite, walk in wardrobe, double bed, bunkbeds for Deme and a cot for Anais. There was also ample storage, a balcony, plasma TV and our very own steward to keep it ship-shape.
I had cabin fever from the moment I opened the door, but only because I was so excited. ‘Let’s have a shower, then explore the ship,’ I said, rushing to get ready.
Dressing up in the evenings is half the fun of life on board, and I’ve never seen so much glitz and glamour.
Even the children made an effort to look their best and the ship was a mass of dicky bows and sequins on Black Tie nights.
I’d been scared about going on a cruise. Firstly, I didn’t know if I’d actually like the feeling of being at sea, and I couldn’t imagine being cooped up on board with the blue rinse brigade.
But the only gran and grandads I saw were mega trendy, with mahagony tans, who were the last ones to leave the bars and shows every night.
And as for being in the middle of the ocean – it was the most calming sensation ever, and I’d drift off to sleep being lulled by the waves.
For those who preferred more action, there was enough entertainment on board to keep everyone amused 24/7.
Every morning we’d grab the copy of the ship’s paper Horizon that was slipped under our door to see what was happening that day. From tennis tournaments to film premieres, scuba lessons and Caribbean deck parties, there was never a dull moment.
If that wasn’t enough there was also the onshore excursions and Caribbean islands to explore.
Each one had the wow factor and P & O had sent us a list of excursions to choose from with our tickets so we’d already worked out our itinerary.
You can just book on board though – and there’s plenty to choose from, all reasonably priced. We went turtle snorkelling in Barbados, dolphin watching in St Vincent, took in the scenic sights at Tortola and soaked up the sun in St Maarten.
Luckily, the shark encounter dive my husband Alexio had booked was cancelled at the last minute – I was too frightened to ask if it was because they’d eaten the last set of tourists eager to get up close and personal with the man eaters.
Best of all though were the moments we went off on our own and saw the real Caribbean – Deme playing football with the local boys in Antigua, clinging on during a native driver’s white-knuckle ride around a mountain to reach the most exquisite beach in St Lucia, bartering for a sarong in Grenada and picnicking on the pure white sand of Catalina Island with the majestic ship in the background.
We loved the clear waters of Bonaire, where shoals of rainbow-coloured fish darted between our legs in the warm sea, and Deme battled to learn the art of windsurfing while we lazed on the sand.
It was no surprise to discover most of these islands have been the locations for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, though sadly there was no sign of Johnny Depp.
But there were families having fun wherever we went, all with children our age, younger and older, many who said this was their fifth or more cruise.
And that’s the problem. The cruise creators have firmly kept families in mind on board. So much so that it would be impossible to think of a more stylish way to see so much in a fortnight.
All we had to do was wake up in a different port every morning – and try and keep track of where exactly in the world we were. In case that was too taxing, mums – and their babies – can unwind back on board in the ship’s spa.
I had a facial, pedicure and three massages while we were between islands and have never felt so relaxed.
Then the Captain invited us onto the bridge. It was giant – the size of a small apartment – but with only the tiniest little joystick to steer the ship.
‘Can I have a go?’ asked Deme and the Captain nodded.
I was terrified as he wiggled the controls but I shouldn’t have worried. Our son’s an expert on his Wii so soon had the giant ship on course.
‘He’s a natural,’ the Captain said, ruffling his sun-kissed hair. But I was glad to hand control back to the professionals and head back to our suite to dress up for dinner.
At the end of the fortnight, I was golden brown, had seen more beautiful sights than I could possibly remember, had eaten and drunk in the finest restaurants under the Caribbean’s starry sky (all food included in the holiday price) and spent the best two weeks with my family.
‘Do we have to go home?’ Deme moaned as we got ready to disembark back at Barbados.
Sadly, I nodded. ‘Can we come back again next year?’ he begged and I smiled.
Another family cruise – it’s a shore thing.
Fact Box
A 15-day cruise of the Caribbean on board Ventura visiting Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Curacao, Aruba, Catalina Island, Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados - Prices from £1,415 per person based on two adults sharing an inside twin cabin on a full board basis.
This includes flights from London Gatwick, Manchester Birmingham or Bournemouth airport.
For more information or to book call P&O Cruises on 0845 3 555 333 or visit www.pocruises.co.uk
A 15 night fly cruise holiday on P&O Cruises Ventura, departing 25 February 2011, is priced from £1,614 per person. The itinerary starts and ends in Barbados, calling in Bonaire, Aruba, Ocho Rios, Grand Turk, St. Maarten, Antigua, Dominica and St. Lucia.

3 comments:

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  2. I love to be at Caribbean every summer with my family. Nice article


    Holiday Letters

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