Is a Caribbean cruise aboard MSC Seascape the perfect single parent holiday? Katie Bowman takes her daughter on a first time cruise and, happily, everything turns out ship-shape, and then some!
First things first, before my mother calls in a panic, I am not a single parent. I’ve been with my husband for a couple of decades and together we have one firecracker of a daughter, Elisa, who’s now 10 years old. However, on this trip – desperate to take her away to break up the unending school holidays and unending drizzle – I was travelling as a single parent. My husband couldn’t get away from work, so Elisa and I decided to go it alone. Together.
Caribbean cruises are a good fit for UK school holidays
This was no small matter for me since my other half is the one forever whizzing down water slides, jumping into unheated swimming pools, racing to the rollercoaster queue, and all of those of other cool-dad pursuits I baulk at.
Don’t get me wrong, I do more than my fair share of holiday parenting. Who else is going to remember to pack the anti-tangle goggles? Plus, I’ve also clocked up a decent number of log-flume miles myself. But it was a daunting prospect, nonetheless, to play both roles for a full week’s holiday: parent and play-pal.
And, single parents, before you roll your eyes at me (“You’re doing this for one week?! Try 365 days of the year!” I hear you snort), I am doing more than enough eye-rolling at myself already. What single parents achieve on a daily basis has always blown my mind. Even before I gave birth, I considered these grown-ups to be walking-talking super-heroes: minus cape and mask.
Need a holiday where the destination provides constant entertainment?
But, as they say, it is what it is. I was a single parent for this trip, and when searching for the perfect family holiday I had many of the same concerns that a single parent has. I needed all hands on deck on the type of holiday where the destination provides constant entertainment; stepping in to fill those gaps when we had played enough Battleships or comprehensively covered the subject of Harry Styles versus Miley Cyrus.
So it was, we booked two places on our first ever cruise: a seven-day Caribbean circuit from Miami, via the Bahamas, Cozumel Mexico, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. Even over school holidays, there were cabins available from £649pp, full board (flights extra).
MSC Seascape picks up the playtime slack for parents
Italian-owned, we had heard that MSC was a cruise company that puts families first, so we opted for its newest ship MSC Seascape; on board there was a Pirates Cove Aquapark and four water slides, dedicated LEGO activity days, as well as a Robotron rollercoaster and Hall of Games arcades. That’s before we even touch on the countless swimming pools and kids’ clubs across four different age brackets. And, from the moment we boarded, we could see the family focus was genuine.
It wasn’t wall-to-wall face-painting and climbing frames, but it was diverse, and young. There were grannies from Chile on mobility scooters, French parents with teens, German blended families bringing together multiple generations, and same-sex parents with newborns, who didn’t leave the ship for seven days in a row. “We’re all sleeping so well,” they beamed, “we don’t want to jinx it!”
First stop: Ocean Cay private island in the Bahamas
Our first stop was the Bahamas – or Ocean Cay, a private island owned by MSC that is part of the Bahamian archipelago but invites only cruise crew and passengers. This means we swam in clear waters and walked fine-white Bahamian sands, but never actually saw a local, nor ate island food.
It was pristine and gave off proper Robinson-Crusoe fantasy vibes but didn’t tick the adventure box for us just yet. This wasn’t the consensus among other folks though, many of whom specifically choose an MSC itinerary because “Ocean Cay gives us a taste of paradise even though we have Grandpop and the twin buggy with us,” one Canadian mum explained to me. Ocean Cay and its paved trails, small size and easy lagoon snorkelling was exactly what they wanted.
The calm Caribbean waters in spring were easy-peasy
The next day was to be our first “at sea” and, truth be told, I was apprehensive. Would we get seasick? Would it feel strange not to see land? We’d requested a balcony room as I was sure I’d feel claustrophobic, but we barely used our cabin, let alone the balcony.
The calm waters of the Caribbean in spring were easy-peasy; only on one evening, crossing an open channel of water, did we feel a wavy sensation, but this was funny rather than nauseating, and I didn’t see a single case of seasickness in our week away.
Today actually became the day we fell in love with the ship, getting to know every deck and uncovering activities barely mentioned in the MSC pre-departure blurb – “there’s a 5D virtual-reality gaming cinema on board?!” screamed Elisa, before we played against each other a dozen times, she slaying my score.
Then there was the open-air basketball court, over-water glass Infinity Bridge, poolside Bingo (in four languages!), a gelato shop with ice-cream cone-shaped seats, and a night-time hot tub as the stars enveloped us like glitter. We could have been on this ship for a month and never run out of things to do.
Shore excursions are all part of the MSC Seascape experience
Next, Cozumel, a Mexican island off the Yucatan coast, not far from Cancun. We tried our first “shore excursion” today – these are the ship-arranged day trips that included a visit to Mayan ruins, ancient cenote swimming caves, margarita-making classes, and taco street-food tours (prices start from around £30pp).
This being out first cruise, we took baby steps and chose a beach club with use of snorkel kit, SUP boards and kayaks, saving us the space in our suitcases. Elisa tried her first chilaquiles in Cozumel – tortilla chips in hot sauce and cheese – and did some impressive haggling over a ceramic toucan in the arts-and-crafts market. Mexico: tick.
Our day swimming with stingrays on Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman involved another shore excursion: we were off to swim with stingrays. We also snorkelled and saw starfish on the same boat trip – Elisa’s favourite stop – and had time on our return to eat lunch at a waterfront fish shack. Conch fritters and callaloo rice arrived at the table, while Elisa tried a virgin Pina Colada.
Barracuda swam right up to shore from our over-water spot before it was time to embark once again. We had had a brilliant day, but still Elisa was glad when it was “time to go home” to the ship. Four days in, and MSC Seascape was already her favourite destination.
Ocho Rios in Jamaica is the perfect end to our MSC Seascape cruise
Last stop of the itinerary: Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We ventured out independently today, spontaneously hiring the services of Mr Harmoni – island driver, tour guide and impromptu soul singer – after we started chatting with him at the taxi rank.
We struck gold, as he took us on a two-hour tour, through the majesty of Fern Gully – a winding road through prehistoric ferns and palms – then via his home village, where he showed us native fruits and shared home-cooked recipes, before stopping at lesser-known Ocean on the Ridge viewpoint for a family photo (you don’t get many of those when travelling as a single parent).
Dunn’s River Falls are spectacular but the onboard waterpark wins
The last car stop was Dunn’s River Falls, where we watched people climbing the gorgeous sun-dappled tiers of water but decided against it ourselves. Elisa had made a friend the previous day and was keen to get back on Seascape for a date they’d made at the transparent, over-water slides. We made our way “home”, Mr Harmoni singing our goodbyes.
It was great to watch Elisa and her new pal Ashlyn shooting each other with water guns back on board, shrieking at the top of their lungs, but when I asked Elisa if she’d like to see her friend for dinner, she said she’d “rather it be just the two of us on our last night”.
For all the bells and whistles on board – welcome as they were – the best memory we have, now we’re back, is giggling in the hot tub under the stars, thrilled to find it empty, just for us. With MSC Seascape acting as the grown-up on this trip, feeding us, watering us, cleaning our cabin (thus avoiding messy-bed wars), even entertaining each day, we’d both been able to switch off and be kids. As a parent – whether there’s one, two, or three of you – that’s priceless.
How to plan a Caribbean cruise
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Miami take from 8 hours, 55 minutes. Flights are not included in the cruise, but MSC can add them to your package.
Katie & Elisa’s choice of cruise
7-day Caribbean cruise, interior cabin, MSC Seascape, full-board, includes: gym and pool access; theatre shows; kids’ clubs and activities, from £649 per person.
Good to know
The same 7-night cruise in a cabin with a balcony, costs from £899 per person.
A 7-night stay at MSC Yacht Club, Seascape’s ultra-all-inclusive “ship-within-a-ship’ area, including all drinks, internet, 24-hour butler service and Yacht Club facilities, from £1,619 per person.
MSC arranged shore-excursions, from £30.
Harmoni Tours pack sights into your Jamaica day, and Mr Harmoni AKA ex-cruise ship musician and dad Eckersly Thompson, is brilliant with kids.
Contact Harmoni Tours email@example.com
Images by Katie Bowman and MSC Cruises