Generation Cruise: A family 'Gruising' adventure with Royal Caribbean
Cruise 2016 Special
Is it possible to take three generations of the same family on a cruise holiday? Absolutely, says Chrissie Russell, who gets her 'Gruising' on with Royal Caribbean.
I have a much-needed cup of coffee in my hands.
A flaky, warm almond croissant is oozing butter in front of me and all is calm. In the background there's the lovely, gentle hubbub of a village waking up. Shutters are rolled up on shop windows, brooms swoosh on stone steps and I'm one of just a few tourists up early enough to catch breakfast.
Welcome to the sleepy village of Oia, on the Greek island of Santorini.
Opposite our café, displays of brightly coloured canvases, ceramic owls and wicker baskets filled with toys are being hauled out onto the street. The town's sugar-cube buildings and blue domes are starting to gleam in the morning sun, and the sea views from the open-air verandah are dazzling.
If I crane my neck, I can see our cruise ship, far below in the distance. From here, Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas looks like a bath toy, floating in the vast waters of the volcanic basin, the Caldera. I look at my husband, who is also savouring a hot drink and perfect calm, and I know we're thinking the same thing: bliss.
Moments like these have been in short supply of late. Just hours earlier, we had the reverse view as we stood on our cruise ship's balcony watching a pinkish dawn break over Santorini. Our 14-month-old, Tom, had decided 5.30am was a perfectly civilised hour for rising. But it's thanks to him, and the early start, that we're getting to enjoy the island before the vast majority of tourists leave the comfort of their staterooms and, whether by cable car, foot or donkey, ascend the mountain to shatter our peace.
We also have my parents - aka Gogo and Yaya - to thank. As we sip our coffees, they are somewhere on Splendour of the Seas, looking after Tom and allowing Mama and Daddy a day on shore that doesn't involve wrestling a toddler away from steaming beverages and vertiginous drops. 'Gramping' (i.e., taking grandparents away on holiday), is a growing trend, though perhaps it would be better to describe our venture as 'Gruising'. We are three generations on a seven-day tour of the Greek Islands and Turkey.
Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to enter the Irish market, back in 2000. Though famous for gargantuan ships and 'first-at-sea' experiences (think rock-climbing walls, surf simulators and observation pods), the line falls somewhere between the luxury and budget ends of the market. It prides itself on being 'value-oriented' - offering a huge range of activities, accommodation, entertainment and dining options. My parents, long-time cruise aficionados, reckon it's the best line for families.
Cruising comes with its stereotypes, of course.
People think of the ships as floating retirement homes, that this is not 'real' travelling. But I've lugged a backpack around Europe, slept with my head on a table all the way to Australia and had my cheese stolen from fridges in dank hostels - if that's 'real' travelling then I'll take cruising any day of the week.
Within a week, we have glided past the tourist-thronged St Mark's Square in Venice, the dome of the Salute almost within touching distance, while we lounged on deck, champagne in hand. We have climbed Dubrovnik's walls and played peekaboo among the ruins of Ephesus and Olympia, each time returning to clean bedrooms, abundant buffets and welcoming staff.
There is no packing and unpacking, no mad dashes for departure gates. Each night we're rocked to sleep by the gentle movement of the sea and each morning we wake to find ourselves somewhere new and exciting. At the risk of sounding a bit 'the Waltons on water', it really is the perfect family holiday.
Of late, our life is more about Pampers than pampering, but my husband and I get to splurge on a couples massage. My parents adopt a perambulation circuit of deck four, love the spectacular on-board performances in the theatre, and treat themselves to a late supper at the ship's speciality steakhouse, Chops Grille.
From age one to 65, there's something for everyone.
Tom is treated like a celebrity. At dinner he's presented with breadsticks and fruit cocktails by our waiting staff. He loves roaming the big carpeted areas and throws himself into salsa classes with the enthusiasm of a hen party. The gleaming elevators are his Disneyland. There's a Royal Babies & Tots activity programme, and we gleefully borrow bag-fulls of Fisher Price goodies from the free toy lending service.
While we're supping coffees on Santorini, Tom is 300-feet below, honing his skills as a future Rory McIlroy on the ship's 18-hole mini-golf course. Later that evening, when we look at the photos my parents have taken, we're a little bit jealous of the frenzied fun. That's the thing about moments of perfect calm - they leave you refreshed and ready for more of the madness. Happily, on a cruise, you can have it both ways.
How to do it
Royal Caribbean offers a 7-night Greece, Turkey and Croatia Cruise on Vision of the Seas, sailing round-trip from Venice, from €1,289pp (cruise only, based on two sharing an interior stateroom) or from €1,593pp (including return flights from Dublin, based on two sharing an interior stateroom) departing from May 14, 2016.
Additional transfers, hotels and dining options can all be booked online at royalcaribbean.ie or by calling 1800 555 604.
Chrissie's cruise tips
Pack layers – whatever the time of year, weather at sea can be unpredictable.
Throw in something fancy for the formal dining nights (they’re great fun), though gents can hire a tux on-board.
Don’t bother packing armbands and inflatable rings for the pool – unless your tot is toilet trained, they’re not supposed to be in the water, even with swim-nappies on.
Don’t stress about bringing lots of toys – the toy lending service is genius.