I can still remember the horrified reaction of my nine-year-old twins when they realised our cruise ship not only lacked ice-cream machines and waterslides, but had just one swimming pool.

A bowl of ice cream in the Prime 7 restaurant on a Regent Seven Seas cruise ship

Regent Seven Seas – ice cream in Prime 7

It didn’t matter that we were going to be sailing in the lap of luxury on the ‘Six Star’ line Silversea, luxuriating in a sumptuous suite, being waited on by our own butler, and revelling in haute cuisine dining every evening.

“This is going to be rubbish. How are we going to share one pool with 400 people?” one of them wailed despairingly.

Luckily, her fears were never realised as most passengers were content to relax on their sun-beds or just take a quick dip, leaving the pool free for youngsters to enjoy, but it underlined that when making the jump from mainstream lines to the luxury sector, you need to think carefully.

Our luxury Croatia cruise was a success and proved to be more family-friendly that I could have hoped, but I wouldn’t have risked it with younger children.

Size is everything

Sun loungers round the pool deck on-board Regent Seven Seas Mariner

Regent Seven Seas Mariner – pool deck

A Crystal Cruises officer taking part in on-board activities with kids

Crystal Cruises – kids activities with an officer

If you are looking for an upscale experience with very young tots, then opting for a suite on family-friendly lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruises,  or P&O Cruises is the best choice and still gives you access to all the children’s facilities.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s upmarket Haven suite complex and MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club stand out for offering on-board exclusivity and their own swimming pool and dining areas. But families also have the option of dipping into the ship’s main attractions too, so you will still have access to the kids clubs, children’s pools and, yes, even the ice cream machines!

Making the jump to more exclusive lines with smaller ships and more personal service can work well; you just need to choose your craft carefully.

Crystal Cruises and German company Hapag-Lloyd Cruises have kids clubs (though not on the scale of more mainstream players), while other Six Star lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn cater for families on a more ad hoc basis, bringing youth counsellors aboard to organise activity programmes on summer holiday sailings.

On our voyage, my daughters were simply content to spend their time splashing around in the ship’s hot tubs and the pool, along with the handful of other children on-board.

Enjoying the novelty factor

Children taking part in a cookie baking class on a Crystal Cruises ship

Crystal Cruises – cookie baking class

The most formal occasions tended to be the full-on three-course dinners each evening, as there was no buffet restaurant alternative. But menus were varied enough to cater for younger palates and when there was nothing the girls liked, the waiters were happy to organise a more appealing alternative.

I found that the twins often became something of a novelty, the waiters making a fuss of them and entertaining them with tricks and stories.

Even with other passengers, far from being an inconvenience (which is what I’d feared) having the girls became a talking point, as other passengers would strike up conversations to ask about them and then tell us about their own grandchildren

Our butler took to leaving treats in our suite, with plates of dainty sandwiches, crisps, biscuits and bowls of popcorn and in the evenings, we would return from dinner to find towel animals and novelties on the girls’ beds.

Such small touches like these made all the difference and illustrated how luxury cruising can work as well for younger passengers as it does for its more established, older clientele.

Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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