Australia's cruise market is absolutely booming.
Year after year, cruise passenger numbers grow. A whopping 1.35 million Australians took a cruise in 2018, with more expected to do so in 2019. Cruising has become the ultimate, modern Aussie holiday.
Image: As the cruise market grows and diversifies, many ships have really upped their ‘family’ game. Credit: Carnival Australia
Australians are the 5th largest cruise market behind the Brits, Germans, the Chinese and Americans who are by far and away the world's keenest cruisers. And Cruise Lines International Association* (CLIA) data suggests that, globally, more than 27 million will take a cruise this year, and 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships are scheduled to join the nearly 450 already exploring the world's waterways. Not to mention ships that are being sliced in two, and having new sections inserted to increase capacity and accommodate passenger growth. The world's shipyards are busy.
There are ships and cruises now for every budget and market segment—leviathan ocean liners, expedition ships, river ships, uber-luxe small ships, even family-friendly affairs. Niches are popping up that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago—like river cruises targeted at generations X & Y, even Millennials, and ships seemingly designed from the ground up to keep kids entertained. We really are a long way from the old, unfortunate adage that cruising is only for 'newly weds and the nearly dead
Image: WaterWorks™, Carnival's onboard waterpark. Credit: Carnival Australia.
CLIA's 2017 report states that 'Cruises are a preferred vacation choice for families, especially those with children under the age of 18. Further, children are involved with the decision process for cruises more than they are for land-based vacations.' And it's not just Mums and Dads cruising with their kids in tow. A major trend that CLIA predicts is something called 'Skip-Gen Cruising'—grandparents travelling with grandchildren sans their parents.
Image: Family fun on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line's 250-acre private Caribbean island oasis. Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line.
So what should first-time family cruisers consider when planning a voyage with kids? We asked ATAS-accredited cruise specialist, Maria Theodosatos from Spencer Travel Eastside
for her thoughts on the matter, and she generously shared these 6 tips:
- In order for everyone to have a good time, the first thing I do is choose a family-friendly ship with activities that cater to all generations travelling. More
often than not, the ship will be at the larger end of the spectrum. 4-star ships tend to do this better than their fancier cousins, although some 5-star ships do offer limited children’s program during school holidays.
- Check to see whether they segment the children and activities by age groups. If they do, the kids will be doing activities suited for their age group and will have a lot more fun.
- If travelling with babies, check and see if nursery services are available on board.
- Look for ships that have children-only and adults-only pool areas.
- Make sure the itinerary suits. Docking every day is no fun for young ones. Look for days-at-sea to maximise the good times aboard the ship.
- Look for ships with ‘family rooms’. They can typically accommodate up to 5 guests. Also ask about interconnecting rooms—a great option for families as Mum & Dad will have some space and privacy, and the kids will be in easy reach.
Image: Carnival Legend in Sydney Harbour. Credit: Carnival Australia
Maria believes it's vitally important that regular, luxury cruisers understand that cruising with kids is an entirely different kettle of fish.
"When high-end clients ask me to look for a child-friendly cruise, the first thing I explain is the difference between what they're used to in terms of all-inclusive luxury and personalised service on an adults-only cruise line, and what they should expect on a child-friendly ship. This is really important because, even though the experience will be very enjoyable, the differences are considerable", says Maria.
Paula Rosenwax from Sydney's northern beaches, had her first experience cruising with kids recently, and recommends consulting an ATAS-accredited cruise expert when planning your first cruise.
"Ours provided us with some really valuable insights, both general—like which cruise lines to consider—and practical, like what to pack, how to pack and even how to store things in our room", says Paula.
Image: Norwegian Cruise Lines Mini Suite. Credit: Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Having a couple of cruises under her belt now, Paula adds, "It's really important to remember that having your kids with you makes for an altogether different holiday. Abandon any thoughts of late nights and partying, as you'll be holidaying on 'kid-time'. Having said that, don't forget that it's your holiday, too", she adds.
"So, my number-one tip is: Don't feel guilty about signing your little ones up to the Kids Club. In fact, do it at as you make your cruise booking. It will save you time on the ship once you've boarded. Also, buy the kids a drinks package. It will save you lots, and they will become 'Mocktail' experts in no time!"
Image: Norwegian Epic’s ‘Recess’ kids area. Credit: Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Paula also recommends ordering breakfast in your room, combined with a coffee-run by your 10-year old or obliging husband. This ensures a relaxed start to the day, a possible extra half hour in bed and most importantly avoidance of the crowded breakfast buffet which Paula describes as sometimes being as busy as the first day of the Christmas sales. The a-la-carte dining room breakfast is another option but Paula points out one downside: "You will have to change out of your PJ's for this."
Carnival Cruise Line Australia is well-known for its family friendly cruise style and sense of fun. When asked about cruising with children, Jennifer Vandekreeke - Vice President and General Manager Australia at Carnival Cruise Lines shared this gem:
"Here’s my tip for those who are sailing on a Carnival Cruise. You can grab the youth program schedules for the entire cruise on the first day. So, go through them with the kiddos at dinner the first night and let them choose the key activity they want to do during the cruise. And voila! You know when to book that indulgent, guilt free massage." So, where are Australian families cruising?
CLIA's research reveals that Australians still spend most of their time cruising local waters with the Pacific islands (35%), Australia (34%) and New Zealand (8%) accounting for the most cruise passengers. Asia remains the most popular long-haul, fly-cruise destination for Australian cruisers accounting for 7.3% of travellers, followed by the Mediterranean (4.6%).
Image: Carnival’s Youth Program includes ‘Stingrays’ for kids 6-8 years. Credit: Carnival Australia.