Last week Rainer Jenss reported on good cruising options for families. This week, he looks at some great small-ship cruises.
This week, I set out to investigate some cruising options for families other than the mega ocean liners that dominate the industry today. If you’re like me and love the idea of traveling by ship but don’t want to spend your holiday waiting on line for buffets or taking mass excursions onto islands owned by the cruise line you’re sailing on, there are some terrific alternatives that are very family-friendly and still get you out on the open seas. You may not get the climbing walls or lounges/kids clubs designated solely for young people, but smaller ships do allow you the opportunity to explore more unique destinations while still keeping your kids plenty engaged.
As I started researching the choices, I quickly realized that most of the small ships that include trips specifically for families don’t refer to themselves as cruise lines at all. This seems appropriate since the experiences they provide are so different than what’s typically offered by the larger companies. Lines like Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney clearly accentuate their on-board attractions and services while most smaller outfitters place more attention on the destinations on the itinerary. This is not to suggest that the latter don’t offer some outstanding services, staterooms and dining. I guess it’s just a question of why you’re really on a ship in the first place – for the ship itself or the places it takes you?
I’ve decided to break it down by three of the destinations that I think are best suited for families. Many of the suppliers I recommend service numerous ports-of-call and their level of comfort and amenities vary broadly. But each of them can get you to places other ships cannot, and isn’t that the point?
I’ve heard it said that being on these islands is like visiting a zoo without any fences. And I’d suggest that it’s more enriching to travel to the Galápagos with kids than without. Perhaps that’s why more than 80% of people who travel there with Lindblad Expeditions (who has a partnership with National Geographic) in summer do so as part of a family. Sharing nature and wildlife with children provides for an incredible bonding experience, and you don’t have to worry at all about not seeing some of the animals, because they’re pretty much guaranteed to be there all year round.
Most of the estimated 1.5 million people who visit Alaska each summer arrive on a ship that holds up to 3,000 people.
Obviously, this seriously limits the places they can visit to the larger cities and wide passageways. Although highly trafficked areas like Glacier Bay National Park are very impressive, smaller ships like Cruise West’s Spirit of Columbia offer a much more intimate way to see the ‘real’ Alaska. With a maximum number of 78 guests, Cruise West is able to travel among the back channels, bays, and wilderness islands that larger vessels simply cannot navigate. Better yet, this is where you just might see those elusive bears, bald eagles, and humpback whales our 49th state is so famous for. An added incentive: Cruise West is offering 50% off for any children 18 or under.
What’s not to love about the Greek islands? And I can’t imagine a better way to take in all its wonderful history, terrific food, gorgeous weather, and sheer beauty than by boat. Unlike the Galápagos or Alaska, accessing Santorini, Naxos, or Mykonos is not a problem for large ships. But why not consider the 41-passenger, four-masted S.V. Panorama sailboat instead? Again, it may not have a waterslide, but your kids can swim in a volcanic caldera, kayak hidden coves, play “Olympic” sports on Kithnos, or learn traditional pottery techniques at a ceramics studio. For more information about the Panorama, you can check out National Geographic’s Family Expeditions, or for other sailing options ranging from mid-size ships to private yachts, www.hellenicholidays.com is a good resource.
Have any other recommendations for great family cruise options? Please pass them along by commenting below or tweeting me @JenssTravel.
Photo of a Galápagos cruise, by Rainer Jenss.