Small ship cruises are revolutionising Seychelles holidays and they’re perfect for families as Andrew Dent, Family Traveller CEO, discovered recently on a Variety Cruises small-ship adventure round the Seychelles islands.
Family holidays and the Indian Ocean are most commonly associated with Mauritius or the Maldives. Mainly based around all-inclusive resorts with lots of beach and water activities, there occasionally might be the opportunity to do a day trip or a half-day boat trip. However, if you’re looking to take the adventure up a notch and earn some school gate bragging rights then I suggest you consider a small-ship family cruise in the Seychelles,
The Seychelles is an island nation which is in fact part of Africa. Kids will love the Robinson Crusoe sound of it all even before they get there and see the deserted beaches and exotic palm trees. So let the adventure begin!
A small-ship cruise puts islands at the heart of Seychelles holidays
Having done our research we discovered that the Seychelles is made up of over 150 islands of all sizes. How could we possibly make the most of that on board a cruise ship? Well, the answer was: small ship cruising. This is the concept of travelling on a boat of 20-30 cabins that is small enough to get right in close to the secluded spots that larger cruise ships just wouldn’t be able to.
Head off on your small-ship adventure with Variety Cruises
We were travelling with Variety Cruises, a Greek-based outfit that has been operating for over 50 years, and cruising the Seychelles for 30 of those. A family company, Variety Cruises is now managed by the grandson of the founder; in short these guys literally wrote the book on how to design intimate and friendly once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
The whole ethos of small ship cruising is different from the larger ships. It is more of an immersion. You get to know your fellow travellers and the staff, and they get to know you. There is something delightful about being wished a good morning by your name, someone knowing how you like your coffee in the morning and your wine in the evening.
On a more practical level, the crew quickly get to know the whole family’s interests and physical abilities. They tailor the day for you with useful suggestions as to what might suit you all best. All of it makes for a more relaxed, personal and safe environment.
Another difference between small ship cruising versus larger ships is that you are often at anchor overnight sitting in a bay. This of course is different from being alongside a bustling port in the Mediterranean, so bear in mind that the opportunities to go onto land and buy souvenirs or visit a cash machine are fewer on these Seychelles holidays. No bad thing in my view, but worth remembering particularly with potentially restless kids.
Why Seychelles holidays on small cruise ships are made for families
We were onboard the Pegasos (not a typo it is spelt with an ‘o’) which is a lovely vessel. She has 21 cabins and 18 staff and at 147 feet (45m), is set over three decks. Parents will be happy to know it’s possible to book adjacent cabins so kids can have twin beds right next door. In other good news, it feels reassuringly safe all around the cabin and deck areas, so these Seychelles holidays are ideal for children aged eight and over.
The communal areas of the Pegasos are comfortable with fashionable nautical colours and designs. The restaurant area is split into about six tables where groups naturally tend to form early in the week. In our case, this was based on nationality, with German, Dutch and English speakers all sitting in their own gangs. This was practical, however, it didn’t stop more informal bonding between groups during the day or especially over drinks later in the evening. Plus, English is the official language on board and families tend to have their own table throughout the trip.
The top deck is where you’ll find plenty of sun loungers and it’s also the area for informal yoga and stretching classes in the mornings. The views from up here are invariably the best and this is where most passengers were to be found on arrival or departure from our destinations.
The vibe on board the Pegasos is pretty casual, which lends itself well to family holidays. This is not a cruise to pack your posh frocks – even on the gala nights jackets or long trousers were not required. Although, it’s worth packing some fun, bright clothes to enter into the spirit of the local Creole vibe. Kids will love the traditional Creole night with Limbo dancing and local music.
How Variety Cruises turn every day into an adventure
Days on board follow an 8-1-8 structure. Namely, breakfast at 8am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 8pm. Outside of that, you are pretty free to shape these Seychelles holidays as you like. There is a fun briefing just before dinner in the galley/lounge area – at which attendance is actively encouraged – and that concentrates mainly on the next days’ destination and activities.
Most days have an excursion in the morning, typically setting off at 10am via Zodiac (a 12-person ribbed vessel) to the shore. The Zodiac transfer is also unique to small ship cruising – getting on and off it is generally pretty simple, although if there’s a swell it can be tricky. The crew are on hand and are excellent, however, and safety is always the first consideration.
Daily excursions range from a snorkelling safari to a nature hike with giant tortoise viewing, a visit to a bird conservation island or simply a beach day. The crew pack beach towels each day for all passengers and Pegasos also has plenty of water toys, think paddleboards, kayaks, masks and flippers. In short, there’s always lots to keep the kids occupied, so parents really only need to bring themselves and some sun cream.
Families can relax into the laid-back dining vibe on board
Now to the food. It is plentiful and tasty but it is is not fine dining, nor the specialist restaurant scene you might find onboard larger ships. Breakfast, lunch and dinner don’t vary too much and there’s a nice mix of traditional staples and local favourites. Lunch and dinner offered up lots of locally sourced fish, as you would expect, and drinks on-board are reasonably priced and paid for at the end of the cruise by any form of credit card.
Giant tortoises are the highlight of all Seychelles holidays
Our cruise itinerary started in the capital city of Victoria on the island of Mahé. Several passengers on board had already spent a few nights at one of the many beautiful resorts in Mahé, and I would recommend this as a way of getting kids over the journey to the Seychelles and making sure you’re all fully relaxed before the cruise.
Our first leg was from Port Victoria to St. Anne where after a lovely swim off the back of the ship we spent the night at anchor.
On the second day, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for Curieuse. The island and its surrounding waters have been a Marine National Park since 1979 hence it’s a fabulous nature spot.
The most famous Curieuse residents are the giant tortoises that roam the island completely at ease amongst their human visitors. There are over 500 Aldabra Giant Tortoises here and they’re an incredible sight and easy to interact with, you can even touch and stroke their skin! The tortoises can live to be 200 years old, so it’s safe to say they’ve seen it all before.
From the tortoises, we embarked on a moderately tough hike across the mangrove swamps where we could see Coco de Mer Palms, giant takamaka trees and an abundance of bird life. Then, just as we were getting tired, the track opened up into a beautiful bay and there was the Pegasos bobbing on the water having sailed around to set up a beach BBQ and organise a swimming afternoon. Most civilised.
Time to explore some of the world’s most beautiful beaches
Our next day involved more nature with a visit to the Bird Sanctuary on Cousin Island. This is a truly stunning experience as the small island is a breeding ground for upwards of a quarter of a million birds. It’s managed by a wonderful group of local and international volunteers and again, there are also many giant tortoises slowly going about their business. After a quick swim stop off the stunning beach, it was back to the Pegasos for more food and drink.
If all of that sounds quite active, the next couple of days were to be relaxing days and taking in what the Seychelles is famous for – stunning beaches and turquoise ocean water. We stopped at the beaches of Anse Georgette and Anse Lazio on the island of Praslin where the pristine white sand, exotic palm trees, ancient rocks and clear waters offer some of the best beaches I have ever visited.
It was a truly magical experience and all the more special to be dropped off by Zodiac in a couple of minutes from Pegasos, your home away from home. We snorkelled and paddle-boarded around the bay comfortable in the knowledge that, although this is a very safe place, should we ever get in trouble the team from the Pegasos are always keeping a keen eye out for their guests).
Snorkel safaris and a tour of astonishing Vallée de Mai
The next highlight of the trip is a two-hour snorkel safari around the island of St Pierre, another natural photo spot which is unique to Seychelles holidays. This was the first place that felt remotely touristy in the itinerary. Yes, there were groups of other snorkellers around, but our guide was in the water with us and expertly navigated us away from the crowds and towards the best spots to see many local fish species in the wild.
Another highlight of the trip included a walking tour of the famous Vallée de Mai Reserve. We spent an hour or so at this World Heritage site, wandering amongst some of the tallest and oldest Coco de Mer palms in the Seychelles.
All in all, I was blown away by the Seychelles. The archipelago compares very favourably with similar family holiday hotspots such as the Maldives and Mauritius. The beaches rival any in the world I have been to. The water is clear and inviting and the people are genuine and warm. For nature and bird lovers, it is a gem and even the casual conservationist can’t help getting caught up in all the good work going on protecting the environment. For kids, a holiday here is both inspirational and educational and likely a life-affirming experience for any inquisitive child. Go, you won’t regret it.
How to plan your Seychelles small-ship cruise
How to get to the Seychelles
Family Traveller flew from the UK to the Seychelles with Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways flies to Mahé from London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Flights take from 13 hours, 30 minutes.
How to cruise in the Seychelles
Family Traveller enjoyed an eight-day cruise with Variety Cruises.
Seychelles eight-day cruise from £4,869 (based on 2 x adults, 2 x children, 2 x cabins)
Children up to the age of 10 years sail free when sharing parents’ cabin.
50% reduction on adult rate for children aged between 11 and 17 years.
Planning a solo-parent holiday? Up to two kids travel free if you share a cabin.
Cabins sleep up to 3