By Marilyn Jones
“Dr. Seuss is on the loose!”, children, their parents and at least one grandmother (me) shout as we parade with the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and Sam I Am from one end of Carnival Fantasy to the other. With provided noise makers and banners, we march past shops, the casino, a café, and passengers walking along the promenade.
Our destination is Universe Lounge and an interactive reading of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who by the cruise director with the help of lots of little passengers.
As much as cruise lines are increasing their fleets and their ports-of-call, many are also increasing their appeal as a multi-generational vacation option. According to the 2018 Cruise Critic’s Cruiser’s Choice, the top three cruise lines recommended for families with children are Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean. These and other cruise lines are recognizing the appeal of all-inclusive vacations and the convenience of unpacking once for families as well as couples.
Of course, I wasn’t sure when I booked the cruise from Mobile, Alabama to Key West, and Freehold, Princess Cays and Nassau, Bahamas, if this was going to work with my three-year-old granddaughter, Ainsley.
My daughter, Olivia Moore, signs Ainsley up for Camp Ocean for children ages 2 to 11. Her age group is the Penguins for ages 2 to 5. She immediately equates it with preschool and often asks to go to “school” – even first thing in the morning!
Times are also allotted for children under the age of two, as well as Circle C pre-teens (12 to 14) and Club O2 teens (15 to 17) with their own spaces. Add to this WaterWorks with a pair of 25-metre-long racing slides and Twister Waterslide (a 91-metre-long spiraling tube), a splash pad for toddlers, a nine-hole mini-golf course and a video game arcade and you can see why Carnival is highly rated as a family-oriented cruise line.
Like the Dr. Seuss parade, there are other activities we participate in together including “Green Eggs and Ham” Breakfast, Broadway-style shows guaranteed to keep the attention of all ages, early dining, swimming and frequent stops at the Cherry On Top candy store.
We have only three Sea Days, so figuring out shore explorations and excursions is a big part of planning.
Studying the Florida Keys & Key West website, we decide to pass on the planned ship excursions and explore on our own. We start with Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, where items recovered from the 17th century Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck including gold, silver, jewellery and other treasures are featured. We continue with Key West Aquarium before taking the Old Town Trolley Tour with its hop-on/hop-off feature to Earnest Hemingway Home & Museum. We walk the few blocks to the Southernmost Point and The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory before catching the trolley and riding it back to Malory Square where our tour began.
From the sharks, sea turtles and touch-pool at the aquarium, the butterflies and the polydactyl (six-toed) cats at the Hemingway house to riding the trolley, it turned out to be the perfect combination for three generations on our first port adventure.
In Freeport, we decide to take part in a Family Beach Day; a shore excursion organized by Carnival. I am not sure what to expect, but as soon as we arrive, we are ushered into a separate gathering and told by the children’s counsellor what to anticipate from activities to lunch.
Ainsley wants to play in the water and build a “sand palace” before deciding to join the other children. The designated children’s area has playground equipment, a small swimming pool and a picnic table where the children ages 2 to 10 gather to paint sea shells and have their faces painted among other activities.
Olivia and I often check to see if Ainsley wants to join us on the nearby beach, but she always says no and continues to enjoy her time playing with the other children and joining in activities. The counsellor also takes care of Ainsley during lunch, so Olivia and I can enjoy our own lunch lazing on the beach under a bright yellow umbrella listening to the surf.
Our next stop, Princess Cays, is an area owned by the cruise company located on Eleuthera Island. The cays offers a beautiful wide sandy beach and cruise employees provide lunch nearby. There are shopping opportunities as well.
We decide to take a shore excursion to explore the island further. The excursion consists of a visit to a cave and a “shopping” stop, which is really a bar stop. It is not a good excursion for Ainsley; we should have stayed on the beach the entire time, which is included for every passenger at no extra fee.
Our last stop in Nassau is a hit. In additional to a city tour by a knowledgeable guide, we stop at Ardastra Gardens & Zoo. It is like being dropped into a park from another time; no glitz and glitter, just attentive employees and rambling pathways past beautiful flowers, small animals and birds. We feed lorikeets, brightly coloured parrots, and watch as flamingos “march” around an arena. When asked if anyone wants to pose with the pink beauties, Ainsley raises her hand and walks out into the arena for a closer look.
We leave the ship early on the last day and head towards home. About an hour into our drive Ainsley asks, “When can we go on the big boat again?” My answer to her is simple and quick, “I hope it will be real soon!”
IF YOU GO:
The main things to remember when booking a cruise for the whole family are to pick a cruise with built-in children’s programs, examine and re-examine shore excursions before signing up to make sure they are age appropriate, and pick a fixed time dining option to keep children on a schedule.
For more information on Carnival Cruise Line: www.carnival.com or your local travel agent.