It’s a first time for me too. After spending many summers in the warm Mediterranean, I’d never thought about swimming in the Baltic Sea, but it turns out it’s surprisingly mild. Not “Baltic” at all.
The day before, children were playing in the pool while their grandparents lounged on lounge chairs, one eye on the children and the other on the giant outdoor screen showing the men’s Wimbledon final. Dad had taken himself to the gym while Mum enjoyed a couple of hours at the spa, plus a hot stone massage.
The next day saw us wandering through a small brick world, riding on rollercoasters and indulging in rides on a day trip to Legoland in Denmark.
For anyone who still thinks that cruising is a quiet round of boring shore excursions and endless dance lessons on deck, it’s best to leave it until you celebrate your 70th birthday or so. Let this be your wake-up call. Because it is one of the most ideal trips that you can do with children.
In fact, cross that off, it’s one of the best trips you can take at any age. Because from our youngest, a five-year-old, to the oldest in our group (my 70-year-old mom), every day brings something new on our 14-day summer cruise on Sky Princess.
We started our journey from Southampton after a wonderful short flight on Aer Lingus from Belfast, and after a night at Botley Park Hotel & Spa, a family-friendly hotel ideally located for boarding the plane in the harbor (and not far) from Peppa Pig World if You have the time and energy).
Our cabin was a junior suite (we paid extra to upgrade and have a little more space – cruises often offer this option as they get closer to sailing, so it’s worth hunting for deals), and it was brilliantly designed, with plenty of room for the four of us. Plus some subtle but cheesy extras like a bathtub instead of just a shower and two TVs (a real treat when some of your group wants to watch the Paw Patrol movie on repeat).
The days soon slid into a stress-free routine: an al fresco breakfast buffet of pancakes, waffles, croissants and fresh fruit at the back of the ship, followed by a trip to the day port and afternoons spent at one of the ship’s many swimming pools.
Tom, 8, and Finn, 5, quickly fall in love with the pizzeria and poolside grill, leaving the pool with wrinkled fingers and toes only when the temptation of dripping pepperoni slices becomes too strong to resist.
On days when they dined early, we’d head to their kids’ clubs, before the adults headed off to enjoy more fine dining, paying the very reasonable specialty restaurant cover charge to enjoy scallop and filet mignon starters at the Crown Grill or lobster ravioli and veal marsala at Sabtatini Italian, or simply enjoy a child-free meal in the dining room or buffet.
Tom has had the pleasure of living in The Lodge (a club for 8-12 year olds) playing Nintendo and air hockey, making badges and solar energy systems, while Finn happily spends a little time each day riding indoor trikes and climbing in Treehouse (ages three to seven) We are all safe in the knowledge that staff will beep us on the pager if necessary to come and collect.
The only thing that took us away from the luxury of ship life was the opportunity to explore some completely new places.
We walked through wildflowers to wander on the cobblestones of the medieval town of Visby, a stunning UNESCO-protected site in Sweden. In Stockholm, we boarded Europe’s longest double-decker tourist train, ducked under tree branches as we drove through the scenic Djurgården, then sat sipping iced coffee and milkshakes and watching the city’s bustling waterways.
In northern Germany, we soaked in the Baltic Sea, before eating salty chips and mayonnaise in one of the best designed (and cheapest to rent) beach huts I’ve ever seen. In the shadow of Tallinn’s medieval towers, Tom tried out his archery skills.
Official ship excursions can be expensive – and many ports can be done without a cruise – but we’d happily sign up for two.
Legoland Denmark wasn’t easy with kids, but it’s worth noting that you’re only in about three hours at the theme park, so do your homework first. Download the app, see what rides you can book in advance and fill out all the paperwork in advance if you need a “show you care” wristband for anyone.
Our Setesdal Vintage Railway trip, on board a 100-year-old steam train, winding through forest valleys, past waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers, was fun and something we never would have known about without the cruise.
But you see, that’s the thing about cruises: everyone thinks they know what to expect from one, but in reality, there’s always something new and wonderful that surprises you.
Travel fact file
■ 14 nights in Norway, Denmark and Sweden on Sky Princess, from July 20 to August 3. Princess Standard Interior prices from £1,499 per person, Princess Plus Interior from £2,199 per person, Princess Standard Mini Suite from £2,599 and Princess Plus Mini Suite from £3,299 per person. See www.princess.com
■ Aer Lingus operates two flights daily between Belfast City Airport and Southampton, seven days a week. Prices start from £35.99 (one way only as part of the return journey). See www.aerlingus.com
■ Botley Park Hotel & Spa in Southampton, seasonal B&B rates start from £99 per room. The hotel also has a ‘Cruise and Stay’ package (including room, transfers to and from Southampton docks and parking for 15 nights) from £239 room only, £259 B&B, £309 dinner and B&B, see www .macdonaldhotels. co.uk/botley-park