Although I’ve been on several cruises, the last was a bit of an experiment. It was the first time we had cruised with our two children aged 2 and 5. To the uninitiated this may sound something of an extravagance, but you might be surprised to learn that it need cost no more than an average two-week package holiday to the Mediterranean. We had booked with P&O partyly because children go free in term time (any teachers reading this please stay calm), and party because many of them sail in and out of Southampton, which saves you all the hassle that goes with ‘modern’ air travel. You just drive up in your car, hand over your keys and your bags at the quayside, board the ship and start your holiday immediately.
We chose P&O’s Oriana because it’s specifically designed to cater for families with children. It has a well-staffed children’s club with a full programme of activities, including cabaret shows. There is even a special children’s tea in the late afternoon, which neatly allowed us to avoid the dubious pleasure of dining with them whilst adorned with best bib and tucker. On Oriana the sun deck at the stern (that’s the blunt end!), with its swimming pool and paddling pool, are reserved for families. The children’s club is open until 10.30pm and, together with the night nursery which runs until 2am, allows mum and dad to enjoy the evening by themselves.
Most days were spent in the various ports of call, we only went ashore if there was something that would keep the children amused such as a water park or a beach. Sometimes we split up with one child each and–once or twice–one of us sprang free when there was something special that we wanted to see or do. A unique feature of cruising that, even though you visit somewhere new every day, you only have to unpack once and take your five-star hotel with you. Without exception we found the service on board the ship both friendly and efficient.
The evening entertainment starts with dinner which, mercifully, on Oriano is of proportions that need not challenge the waistline. In any case, it’s not compulsory to eat every course! Thereafter the main event of the evening normally comprised a variety style theatre show. If that’s not your bag then there’s a number of bars, each with their own character and some live music to suit varying tastes. Failing that there’s dancing, quizzes, the cinema or a quiet game of bridge. ‘Butlins on water’ it may be to the high brow. Certainly, it must be very difficult to portray an image of exclusivity when accommodating 2500 passengers. But we were never really aware of being in such a large party except, perhaps, during embarkation and disembarkation. For us it simply represents an affordable and enjoyable alternative to the staple diet of beach holidays.