AWARD WINNER! This fabulous feature, written by three generations of Family Traveller journalists won the award for Best First-time Cruise Feature at the 2016 CLIA Cruise Journalism Awards. Find out why, below.
Multi-generational or '3G' holidays are becoming more and more popular. But can a holiday really cater for the different needs of three generations? To put 3G holidaying to the test, three generations of the Dent family boarded the cruise ship Britannia and set sail on the Norwegian fjords. Here, each generation shares their unique experiences.
'Our golden wedding anniversary was fast approaching and we needed to put our heads together with our children to organise a memorable family celebration. Finally, it was agreed a cruise would be perfect for everyone – no worries about self-catering; no planning the days out or finding activities that suited all age groups; no hassles at airports with parking and luggage arrangements. We chose P&O’s latest flagship, Britannia, for a week’s Norwegian cruising, a round trip departing from Southampton.
'An efficient valet service to park the car at the south coast port, and baggage arrangements which meant our cases were next seen outside our cabins, meant the trip started on a high. The family had taken three adjoining balcony cabins, and soon we were settled in. Then, it was time to explore, and we were suitably impressed by the luxe atrium, the smart lounge spaces and restaurants, and the sports deck with inviting swimming pools, hot tubs and all-important kids’ club for Ellie (eight) and Charlotte (five).
'Soon, we were steaming up the North Sea on our way to Bergen, the gateway to the fjords. The day at sea gave us a chance to plan our holiday, choose onshore trips and just enjoy the family reunion. P&O produces informative daily guides detailing the ship’s activities and entertainment so, as a family, we could decide how to structure the day to please everybody. The seniors might go off to a lecture on the solar system while the children enjoyed a mini-disco. The two space talks did indeed prove popular with the older generation, but it did seem surprising there were no background lectures on Norway – its geology, history, economics, or progressive welfare system – targeted at either adults or children.
'Bergen was a great success – we explored the sights and smells of the fish market, strolled through the wharf area of Bryggen, alongside the quay, enjoying the medieval wooden warehouses now painted and converted into charming souvenir shops and restaurants. The children hunted for trolls in the shops, while the adults wanted to learn about the Hanseatic League, which traded cod and herring from these buildings over 400 years. Other families from the ship took the funicular railway to the top of Mount Floyen to enjoy the panoramic views.
'Back on Britannia, we had a choice of dining rooms for the evening and then the evening show in the theatre. Over the week, we tried some of the ‘special’ restaurants. The Epicurean was superb, and perfect for our celebration, but too formal for under-eights, so another night, the girls joined us for Indian food at the Sindhu. Other restaurants for general dining required no booking, but were still smart and efficient, with good food.
'Most nights, there were two slots to catch the shows. These were very popular with our group, and offered plenty of colour, music, costumes and dancing, but the beat and noise of the music could be somewhat overpowering for a five-year-old dead on their feet after a hectic day. We found a better solution was to have the grandparents take the girls to the early show, then put them to bed, so the parents could go to a cocktail bar and have a leisurely drink.
'Our visit to two small fjord towns – Andalsnes and Olden – gave us a chance to appreciate the stunning scenery of the fjords. Here, the organised trips are not for the faint-hearted – glacier walks, scenic railway tours, zigzagging roads and RIB (rigid inflatable boat) lake rides. The crossing in the ‘tender’ transfer boat to the small dock at Andalsnes was enough excitement for the children!
'Haugesund was a highlight for the family. The town was once a centre for herring fishing and canning, but now it is oil and tourism that makes it prosperous. Ellie and Charlotte were looking forward to the Nordvegen History Centre, with its reconstructed Viking settlement and the chance to dress and fight like a Viking. The adults enjoyed hearing about the Norwegian resistance in WW2 and the occupation of Norway from 1940-1945.
'All too soon, we were heading back to Southampton and reality. It had been a very special family holiday and a great way to celebrate with the three generations.'
Suzanne says: 'I find I book our holidays in the hope of new experiences, for us as well as the kids, and the promise of relaxation in luxurious surroundings. Add to that our collective expectation for it all to go perfectly to plan and, well…
'The reality involves airport stress, slavery to logistics and periods of restless, bored kids. Throw in a few more members of the extended family, and the opportunity for something to go wrong explodes exponentially.
'So how to mark a 50th wedding anniversary holiday for the grandparents with their two sons and families spanning an age gap of more than 70 years? As the grandparents are seasoned cruisers, we decided the holiday solution to suit us all, a trip to the Norwegian Fjords aboard Britannia, the newest and largest jewel in the P&O crown.
'Tick airport stress off the list of concerns. A short drive to Southampton followed by a quick check-in through a well-organised terminal and you’ve arrived at your hotel on the water. What other foreign holiday allows you to go from parking the car at the terminal to sitting, drinks in hand, poolside is less than an hour? Following a tip, we had carried swimsuits in our hand luggage, to ensure kids could go straight to the heated pool on the top deck instead of waiting for the luggage to arrive in our rooms.
'Traditional cruisers may find the Britannia large (with 3,500 passengers and 1,400 crew) and possibly the rooms too luxurious and light (definite absence of portholes in our room). For our family of four, though, a balcony deluxe room fit like a glove. I was expecting the bathroom to be too small to swing a cat, never mind my five-year-old, who still expects my attendance for all bathroom duties, whether companionship or service. I'm surprised to find a bath big enough to fit both my girls, and well-stocked essentials from The White Company.
'We had booked three rooms together, and the balcony dividers can be opened to create one long covered outdoor space to mingle. This gave plenty of space for the kids to run between rooms and spread the joy of their company and noise with each adult in turn.
'Cross ‘slavery to logistics’ off your worry list. A table at The Peninsular Restaurant was available every night without fail, queue or booking ahead if you take advantage of the Freedom Dining option. With 13 restaurants and cafes onboard, options are varied, plentiful and, better still, many are all-inclusive. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the dining choice could only be the Epicurean restaurant. This is Britannia’s premier fine-dining restaurant, with black-tie dress code. After a kids’ buffet dinner at the Horizon Restaurant, the younger children were safely ensconced in the kids’ club. At the Epicurean, the grown-ups indulged in six high-end courses, brought to a close with the fire and flair of flambé.
'If you want to take the night’s pace down a few knots, and you haven’t done a vintage supper club before, I would suggest an evening at the Limelight Club. This allows you the luxury of dinner and entertainment without ever leaving your seat. The Limelight’s intimate setting, with courses punctuated by a lounge singer’s set, is reminiscent of another time, when meals and music were savoured slowly and appreciated fully.
'To offset all the decadent dining, I’m proud (and slightly surprised) to say we made several trips to the gym. Somehow, exercise doesn’t seem such work when gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows as the ship cruises out of another fjord en route to the North Sea. While weight loss was out of the question on such a week, the regular spinning classes and early morning yoga allowed me to just about maintain the status quo. For those with more ambitious goals, Britannia offers bespoke consultations for a fee, where advice on exercise routines and nutrition is tailored specifically to you.
'After a full day at sea, we were setting our eyes on the shores of Norway and the much-anticipated fjords. Even the massive silhouette of the Britannia – with its 15 decks – was no match for the size and grandeur of these majestic mountains as we slowly navigated up the spectacular Nordfjord. It takes three hours to steam the 45 miles into the interior of Norway, the captain steering as if threading a needle, and manoeuvring to avoid power lines that clear the ship’s funnels by a mere 20 feet.
'We arrived like modern-day Vikings, ready to explore, feast and plunder – albeit the trinket shops full of trolls and Nordic knitwear. The cruisers wasted no time spilling onto the shores of the local fishing village of Olden and spreading in all directions to take in the numerous excursions on offer.
'If you are wondering whether Norway is an appropriate destination to occupy the imagination of small children, I have only one word for you… Frozen! Look no further than Olden and the Nordfjord to know where the inspiration for the Disney cinema sensation came from. Granted, there is no stone castle perched on the edge of the fjord, welcoming visitors and trade from Weselton, but Charlotte was convinced the snow-covered North Mountain was looming in the distance. It was, in fact, the Briksdal Glacier. In winter, I imagine it is as menacing as Elsa’s icy peak when she decided to lose her temper, but on a mild July day, excursion shuttles take would-be hikers to the bottom for a gentle 45-minute climb.
'Our last port stop was Haugesund and the Viking Village excursion. This was the trip the children had been looking forward to all week. The tour guide occupied the short coach ride with a loud and colourful game of ‘pick your Viking name’, with giggles at ‘Daddy the Bloodaxe’ and shouts of protest over ‘Ellie the Crazyhair’.
'I must confess I knew very little about Vikings on our arrival, other than they were supposedly brutal, plundering explorers that travelled far in relatively small, open sailboats, and apparently discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
'The replica village and museum at Avaldsnes, where Viking kings ruled Norway for more than 3,000 years, showed us a softer, more everyday picture of Vikings, their families and their daily life. After a brief film introducing the somewhat confusing Viking mythology, we were free to explore the museum full of artefacts, models and drawings. The costume box at the end of the tour meant I ended up with three generations of ‘Vikings’ fighting each other to the death.
'There was a short walk to the Viking farm, which stands on the grounds of an original village, and our guides all dressed the part and explained how Vikings lived and grew up, and we even played Viking games. To finish up, we wandered around the stone church built by Harald the Fairhair, otherwise known as the first king of Norway. Very close to the church wall, jutting 7m out of the ground, leans a long needle stone, the Virgin Mary’s Needle. Legend claims the Day of Judgement will come when the stone finally touches the walls of the church – Ellie, on hearing this, offered to stay behind to help keep the stone clear of the wall, but the guide told her they already had plenty of help!
'Our final day at sea on our way back to Southampton, and I was sitting at the sunset bar at the stern of the boat with my husband and a margarita, when a feeling of déjà vu came over me: we'd done this before somewhere. Yes, this was how we used to holiday before the children – enjoying a cocktail, peace and quiet and an undisturbed sunset. The grandparents had taken the kids off to an early dinner and one of the daily shows. A kids’ club is hugely helpful in giving parents time to themselves. Still, it’s no match for an able-bodied grandparent aboard, taking the offspring to the many activities on offer on the daily schedule and giving them that much-craved undivided adult attention.
'Two days after arriving home, Charlotte said, out of the blue, ‘I miss Britannia.’ I think it is safe to assume we have become a family of cruisers – across all three generations.'
'I went on a big ship called Britannia. It was amazing! The first day, all I could see was water. We were in the North Sea. I knocked on my grandparents’ door and said, ‘Please can you take me to breakfast?’ They had tables full of my favourite foods – and I got to back for a second plate!
'Tomorrow, we will see Norway for the first time. My sister Charlotte is crazy about Elsa from Frozen, and she hopes we see the North Mountain and the ice castle. I'm more excited to see where the Vikings lived.
'Today, I want to do everything on Britannia, like playing quoits, swimming and seeing the show with dancing and singing. I think the pool and the cinema are two of the best places on the ship. We get to go to the kids’ club this afternoon. They have an indoor climbing frame and we get to play games, and make things. Tonight, we get to watch a movie and sit in beanbags while my mum and dad and grandparents have a long and boring dinner.
'I don’t want to ever get off this ship!'