The vast wilderness of Alaska is surprisingly accessible by cruise ship, and there’s plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with thriving populations of North American wildlife.
A family adventure holiday in Alaska provides a history, geography and science lesson all rolled into one. Summer is the best time to travel to the ‘last frontier’ when the sun is high in the sky and the bald eagles swoop around the mountain tops.
Having a balcony cabin is an absolute must when sailing through the famed glacier regions and past ice-fringed fjords. You’ll also have a good chance of spotting whales, seals, sea lions, orcas, sea otters, mountain goats, brown and black bears, puffins and kittiwakes.
Most cruise companies provide the chance to add a pre- or post-tour to time on board ship in order to add an additional dimension to the Alaska experience. These include seaplane and trips, coach tours and the opportunity to stay in wilderness lodges. Kayaking, dog sled rides, Jeep tours, sight-seeing by helicopter and rainforest hikes mean even the most adventurist families are spoiled for choice.
Price: A 12-night Celebrity Cruises’ voyage from Vancouver returning to San Francisco via Tracy Arm Fjord, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan plus Victoria in British Columbia and Astoria in Oregon starts at £3,050 based on a departure on August 23 2015, excluding flights.
More info: celebritycruises.co.uk; 0845 456 0523
2/10 Round Britain
Dispense with the cries from offspring in the passenger seats of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ by circumnavigating the UK on the maiden British Isles and Ireland cruise by P&O’s new ship, Britannia.
The July 2015 departure from Southampton will see the latest addition to the fleet – the biggest ship purpose built for British cruisers – set sail from Southampton on an ocean-going version of a classic road trip. A shore excursion to the vessel’s namesake – the Royal Yacht Britannia – is one of the options on offer in Edinburgh after the ship travels up the east coast passing the lighthouse at Flamborough Head.
This new itinerary takes in the Scottish Highlands and Inverness from the port of Invergordon before sailing past Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of the mainland UK. The last Commonwealth Games host city of Glasgow is next on the agenda followed by former European capital of Culture, Liverpool.
Britannia, compete with celebrity chef James Martin running a new cookery school on board, then crosses the Irish Sea for calls into Dublin and Cobh – the port of Cork – before skirting the Cornish coast to make a final call in St Peter Port in Guernsey and finally, back to Southampton.
Price: The 12-night Round Britain cruise on Britannia costs from £1,319 per adult and £395 per child, departing July 6 2015.
More info: pocruises.co.uk; 0843 373 0111
3/10 Florida Stay and Cruise
For families seeking adventure and relaxation in equal measure, a Florida cruise could be the answer. Many cruise lines offer the chance to add on a sailing to a stay that takes in the likes of Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld or the new Legoland Orlando.
Cruise and stay holidays combine the thrills of the theme parks in Orlando – the number one destination for families – with relaxing beach breaks on Caribbean islands. Royal Caribbean International’s giant Freedom of the Seas, complete with a surf simulator, rock climbing wall, a children’s water park, ice rink and life-sized characters from Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, sets off from Port Canaveral for seven nights at sea.
Destinations include the line’s private beach resort of Labadee in Haiti, Falmouth in Jamaica for climbing the famous Dunn’s River Falls, the Cayman Islands capital of Gerogetown for a boat trip to swim with rays at Stingray City and the Mexican island of Cozumel off the Yucatan Peninsula for diving and snorkeling.
Price: A seven-night stay at the Rosen Inn, Orlando, with car hire, followed by a seven-night cruise onFreedom of the Seas costs from £1,099 per adult and £899 per child including Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick for a December 4 departure.
More info: virginholidayscruises.co.uk; 0844 488 3084
Not only is the Catalan capital one of the busiest cruise ports in the Mediterranean, it’s also a culturally rich beach-front city that possesses great shopping – think Zara flagship store – and an abundance of child-friendly cafes and restaurants.
The old town districts are famed for their historical monuments, narrow streets and Bohemian atmosphere, while the city also has the biggest selection of modernist architecture making it a genuine open-air museum.
Barcelona is the only European capital with almost three miles of beaches where you can enjoy the most modern amenities. From the pier, head to Gaudi’s life’s work, the Sagrada Familia cathedral for a bird’s eye view of the city from one of the towering spires. From there, pass through the Barceloneta Quarter or Fisherman Area, and the beautiful Calle Marina.
A walk around Montjuic Hill, the most important recreational area in Barcelona, mixes parks and gardens with the Joan Miró museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. For fairground thrills, the hilltop Tibadabo Amusement Park is the place to go for rollercoasters, balloon rides and bumper cars.
Football fans can take a tour of Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona’s famed football club and the third largest stadium in the world, with a capacity for 110,000 supporters. The tour includes the players’ dressing room, press area, pitch and VIP lounge.
Norwegian Cruise Line is bringing Norwegian Epic, one of the world’s biggest family-friendly ships, to sail out of Barcelona year-round from May 2015. Plunging water slides, an aqua park, Nickelodeon character-based activities, more than 20 restaurants and 24-hour pizza delivery are all part of the buzzing Epic experience.
Price: A seven-night Western Mediterranean fly-cruise on Norwegian Epic from Barcelona costs from £1,610 per adult and £780 per child, including return flights from Heathrow on August 23 2015. The ship calls at Naples, Civitavecchia (the port of Rome), Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Cannes and Palma in Majorca,
More info: ncl.co.uk; 0845 201 8900
Fancy going beyond the realms of conventional cruises on a journey that encounters the wildlife, people and landscapes at the very ends of the earth? Then Spitsbergen, the only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago, located halfway between Norway and the North Pole, is the place to really escape to.
Known as the kingdom of the polar bear, frozen landscapes of the Arctic desert and towering glaciers provide a rich diversity of natural and cultural highlights. Remote mining communities, research stations, spectacular fjords and icebergs are all part of the mix on a voyage from Reykjavik in Iceland, which follows in the footsteps of the Vikings 800 years ago.
Highlights include a trip to Jan Mayen, one of the most isolated islands in the world, and crossing the 80th parallel. The area is teeming with birdlife and large mammals including walrus and whales.
Numerous expedition landings are included in the voyage on the ship MS Fram, designed to sail in polar waters, with several extra excursions available such as hiking, kayaking or fishing with members of the crew. Back at the ship a chef will cook the catch and serve it for dinner. Alternatively, spend a night on deck in a sleeping bag viewing icebergs under the midnight sun while sipping regular hot chocolates
Price: The ten-day Hurtigruten Climate Voyage from Reykjavik on July 14 2015 costs from £10,432 for a family of four sharing a four berth cabin. Flights cost an additional £738 per person, with a 25% reduction for children.
More info: hurtigruten.co.uk; 020 3582 6642
6/10 Canary Islands
A long-time winter sun favourite, the Atlantic islands off the coast of Africa make for a fascinating contrast between mountainous terrain and beach resorts, all withineasy sailing reach of the UK.
Unlike a regular hotel-based package, cruises allow for visits to two or more of the Spanish islands, often with a stop in the Portuguese outpost of Madeira. Madeira is known as the ‘floating garden’ for its abundance of botanical and tropical flowers and is renowned for its annual New Year celebrations featuring the largest fireworks show in the world. More often than not, the capital of Lisbon is included as a port of call on the return voyage; great for trams rides and delicious custard tarts.
The journey south brings warmer temperatures and the opportunity to become familiar with life on board – relaxing days at sea doing as little or as much as you wish. Most ships on Canaries itineraries provide dedicated supervised and age-specific clubs for children and teenagers, while parents can enjoy spa treatments, work out in the sea-facing gym, take in lectures and shows or simply laze on deck with a book.
Tenerife’s Las Canadas National Park, dominated by a giant volcanic crater with a circumference of more than 29 miles, is the place for young adventurers to get close to Mount Teide, Spain’s highest peak at 12,300ft. Younger ones will love the 135,000-acre Loro Parque to ride bikes or hire roller skates to view hundreds of species of parrots, the largest dolphinarium in Europe, an aquarium with a shark tunnel and Planet Penguin, where Antarctica is recreated.
Maintaining the wildlife theme, families can hop on board dromedary camels for a trip over the volcanic dunes in Lanzarote, reminiscent of the surface of the moon, take a submarine dive or go kayaking off the beach.
Price: A 12-night Canaries cruise from Southampton with Royal Caribbean International on October 13 costs from £899 per adult.
More info: royalcaribbean.co.uk; 0844 493 2061
A series of multiple city breaks rolled into one makes cruising the Baltic Sea a must for sight-seeking families. Denmark, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Estonia are among the countries covered on a typical Baltic capitals cruise, with many offering an extended overnight stay in St Petersburg to allow time to view the incredible treasures and priceless works of art on display in the Hermitage Museum.
While many cruises depart from UK ports such as Southampton, Dover and Harwich, time at sea reaching the region can be reduced by flying to board the ship in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Here children will be enchanted by the Tivoli Gardens, which offers spectacular outdoor entertainment in the heart of the city, including a pantomime theatre and a roller coaster.
Set across a series of islands, Stockholm is best seen from the water, with many sightseeing boats offering trips through the archipelago, estimated to be made up of 30,000 islands, giving the chance to hop on and off en-route. The city’s old town of Gamla Stan is the main draw on land, including the 600-room Royal Palace. However, families with a head for heights should head to the must-do new attraction – SkyView, a pair of glass gondolas which travel 425ft to the top of the Ericsson Globe, the world largest spherical building.
The Finnish capital of Helsinki is easy to walk around, yet it’s worth hopping onto a ferry for the short journey to the 18th century Suomenlinna sea fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering six islands and the largest fortification in the country. No stop at St Petersburg is complete without a visit to 353 rooms filled with masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Giorgione, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as part of the Hermitage Museum, set amongst spectacular staircases and highly decorated floors and ceilings in this former residence of the Russian Czars.
Price: A 12-night Baltic fly-cruise from Copenhagen with Holland America Line on May 8 2015 costs from £1,697 per adult and £497 per child, based on four sharing a cabin including return flights from London.
More info: hollandamerica.co.uk; call 0843 374 2300
Go Christmas shopping while soaking up the sands and sensational sites in the Gulf with a new series of cruises from Dubai. Italian line MSC Cruises is sending family-oriented ship MSC Orchestra to run a series of departures from Dubai between December and February 2015. The winter sun sailings take in Abu Dhabi together with Muscat and Khasab in Oman.
Dubai is home to Caliph’s Tower – the world’s tallest skyscraper at 800 metres – to one of the largest waterparks in the world and an indoor ski slope within the vast Mall of Emirates shopping centre. Dune safaris, dhow cruises and high tea – literally – at the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel are among the excursions available.
Abu Dhabi boasts Ferrari World Theme Park, with a range of attractions and exciting rides for both adults and children alike, from the thrill of driving a Formula 1 racing car to experiencing the adrenaline-pumping G-Force experience. Nature-lovers will have plenty to get excited about too, as dolphins and many species of whale are common in the coastal waters off Muscat’s rugged shoreline.
MSC Orchestra has five kids’ clubs on board – Baby Club (0-3 years); Mini Club (3-6 years); Junior Club (7-11 years); Young Club (12-14 years) and Teen Club (15-17 years) – overseen by qualified staff, allowing parents to relax by the swimming pool or in the Aurea Spa, an authentic Balinese spa offering treatments including massages, facials and manicures.
Price: A seven-night fly-cruise from Dubai for a family of four sharing a cabin with a window costs from £3,008 including Emirates flights from Gatwick based on a December 13 departure.
More info: msccruises.co.uk; 0203 426 3010
9/10 Puerto Rico
For great beaches, Pirates of the Caribbean-style fortresses and the oldest tropical forest reserve in the western hemisphere, the island of Puerto Rico is difficult to beat. Besides being a major regional cruise port, the capital of San Juan has history by the Bacardi bottle load – the famous rum is distilled in a major site on the outskirts of the city.
The oldest city under US governance, established in 1508 by explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, San Juan manages to mix colourful tourist shops with accurately restored Spanish colonial buildings. Children can let their imaginations run wild exploring the dungeons, barracks, tunnels and ramps of Fort San Felipe del Morro. The fort features 16th century battlements and an impressive lighthouse overlooking the sea from the west of Old San Juan, from where the island sought to defend itself from invasion by sea.
Travel to the heart of Puerto Rico – the island is 80 per cent the size of Jamaica – to swing across a series of eight zip lines from 70ft-high platforms or saddle up for horse riding through the foothills of the El Yunque National Rainforest. Forest trail hiking, caving, night-time kakaying, all terrain vehicle safaris and surfing off Condado Beach are just some of the activities easily accessible from San Juan’s cruise port.
Price: A seven-night western Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral in Florida on Disney Cruise Line’s ship Disney Fantasy including a call in Puerto Rico costs from £1,432 per person including flights from Gatwick and a night’s pre-cruise hotel in Orlando based on a February 20 departure.
More info: disneyholidays.co.uk; 0800 169 0742
If there’s one destination sure to persuade the kids not to pause too long in Naples, the home of pizza, it’s Pompeii. The eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 was a monumental natural disaster that entombed the city, yet preserved a moment in time more than 2,000 years – and provides a genuinely unique snapshot of life at the height of the Roman empire.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pompeii before the eruption was known as a vacation community for high society. It had a forum, amphitheatre, gym, shops and an aqueduct that delivered water for irrigation, fountains and private baths. A number of the ruins remain in a remarkably preserved condition with detailed mosaics and frescoes decorating the interiors of wealthy homeowners’ villas.
Visiting the Pompeii Amphitheatre is a highlight. You’ll learn about the gladiatorial combats which took place in the arena and often lasted for two or three days, during which men faced dangerous animals in front of 20,000-strong crowds. A typical tour of Pompeii, about a half hour’s drive from the port in Naples, can be combined with a boat ride and cable car ascent to the stylish island of Capri – well worth the effort for the gelato in fresh waffle cones alone.
Price: A 14-night Mediterranean sail from Istanbul to Barcelona with Princess Cruises departing on July 25 2015 starts at £6,409 for a family of four including flights. Besides Naples, the ship Emerald Princess calls at Mykonos, Valletta, Messina, Civitavecchia for Rome, Palermo, La Goulette, Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Genoa and Toulon.