The ideal ship for a family cruise
On a cold, wet Easter bank holiday, the spray from lorries on the M25 made driving stressful, so at Gatwick I was relieved to hand over the car to the valet parking service organised by Holiday Extras. A few hours later I was in Malaga, cloudless skies and seventy-five degrees, to join the world’s largest cruise ship a few days before the paying guests arrived.
You might think that cruises are not ideal for a wandering one-year-old, naughty nine-year old or troublesome teenager. Step up Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas where, as I discovered, kids of all ages, their parents and grandparents, can holiday together but enjoy doing their own thing – a truly multi-generational destination.
Key to a family holiday is keeping the kids amused so I checked out the professionally staffed children’s clubs. Royal Babies and Tots cater for kids from six to thirty-six months. Parents can stay for a play session or leave their youngsters for a small hourly charge. The facility has swim nappies and a specially filtered pool, so even non-toilet trained tots can have fun splashing around.
Adventure Ocean is a suite of rooms catering for Aquanauts (3-5 years), Explorers (6-8 years) and Voyagers (9-11 years). The services are free before 10.00pm and the suite includes a science laboratory so kids can learn as well as play. However, it’s not all about staying indoors as they organise activities around the ship.
The teens club (12-17) is a ‘come and go as you please’ facility. The Teens Only areas include a lounge and night club; no parents are allowed and it’s open until 1.00am. Activities include dinners, pool parties, BBQs, themed nights and discos. There are also sessions where the use of facilities such as the zip line and Flow Rider are reserved exclusively for the club.
Kids tend not to get too excited about shore excursions which often include historical and cultural elements, so if the teenager in your family has just found the love of their life, they can stay on board and do their own thing while you explore ashore. Pisa with grandma or Pizza with new friend – no contest!
Constructed differently from most ships Symphony has two banks of cabins; guests can choose between balconies facing out to sea or facing inwards over the central features, the Boardwalk and Central Park, a delightful area with ten thousand plants and trees and a small bar. It’s beautifully lit at night and I enjoyed peaceful evening drinks in the gardens. In contrast the Boardwalk, with fast food outlets, carousel and large Playmakers sports bar, is probably more suited to a younger generation.
Towering over it is The Ultimate Abyss, at one hundred feet the highest slide at sea – well two slides actually so guests can race each other to the bottom. There are two rock climbing walls, a sports court and a zip line nine decks above the Boardwalk. Two Flow Riders shoot water up slopes at 25mph so guests can surf and body-board without moving – much. There’s also an ice rink, laser tag area and, for those less energetic, crazy golf.
Unlike traditional cruise ships, Symphony’s guests dine when and where they want from a choice of twenty venues, and there are no formal nights. Seven restaurants are included in the fare and another thirteen carry a small extra charge. Fans of Oriental food have a choice of sushi and sashimi, meat lovers can indulge in Chops Grill, and fish lovers can get their fill at Hooked. If you fancy Italian then there’s Jamie’s Italian and Sorrento’s, an American/Italian mix serving a range of pizzas. For something different, 150 Central Park offers a six course tasting menu with great wines.
Popular with kids, Johnny Rockets is a 1950s style diner specialising in burgers and hot dogs. Then there’s Wonderland, inspired by Alice herself. The menu brought to your table is blank but you’ll find a paintbrush and water to hand. Wet the menu with the brush to reveal unusual items such as The Bird’s Nest, consisting of smoke, blue cheese and hot sauce.
There are also numerous bars ranging from a traditional pub to the bionic bar where your cocktail is prepared by a robot. You can even have a drink in the Rising Tide, a bar that moves up and down between three decks.
After dinner there’s a wide choice of entertainment. Because there are no first and second sittings for dinner the ship can stage full-length West-end style performances. Shows in the main theatre include Hairspray, winner of eight Tony awards, whilst in the ice rink you can see 1977, a story about the fictitious theft of the Crown Jewels. Hiro is a new aerial show that takes place outside over the Aqua centre.
Surprises are everywhere. Getting into the lift on one occasion I found myself sharing it with the pop-up pianist, so leaving the buffet on deck 16 I decided to walk down the stairs and was amazed to find that as I did so it played Arabesque, each step playing the next note. The faster I climbed up or down the faster the tune played. After a hearty lunch I was pleased it wasn’t Chopin’s Minute Waltz!
For families who want to holiday together but not stick together, clearly Symphony offers an idea solution.
For more information on Symphony of the Seas and other Royal Caribbean cruises, call 0844 493 4005 or visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
Holiday Extras offers trusted Meet and Greet and other services at all major UK airports. To book, call 0800 1313 777 or visit www.holidayextras.co.uk