Category Archives: Family Cruises

Man overboard – or not?

Man overboard - or not?

There was an hour of intense drama on Ruby Princess last night when a passenger gave the ‘Man Overboard’ alert.

While the way the crew handled the event was nothing but impressive, the reaction of the passengers was fascinating and in some cases, bizarre.

The captain made an announcement about an hour out of Mykonos, as the sun was beginning to set. “Man overboard, port side”.  I’m on the starboard side. So what do I do? Rush out onto the balcony, only to find that pretty well everybody else on the starboard side had rushed out onto their balcony. I met many of my neighbours for the first time.

Everybody was in a state of mild shock, wondering if it was for real.

Being a nosy journalist, I went down to the promenade deck to see what was going on. But in under five minutes since the announcement, the crew had sealed the outside decks with ‘crime scene’-style yellow tape. All the officers who weren’t on the bridge or guarding the doors, where small crowds had formed, were gathered on the port side and a red flare was streaming smoke from a distant spot on the water. One man said excitedly, “This is awesome,” as though it was some kind of entertainment that had been laid on. Another guy said to his friend, “Come on, let’s go to the casino.” A Japanese man turned up with a huge Nikon, full zoom lens attached, presumably hoping for some gruesome action.

Most upsetting was the frightened parents who were running up and down the stairs in panic, trying to remember where they last saw their kids (there are a lot of families onboard with teens who do their own thing on the ship).

Meanwhile, the art auctioneer calmly continued to describe the ‘Picassos’ in the Explorers’ Lounge. The scene was truly surreal.

At this stage, we still didn’t know if there was an actual person in the water and the ship was a-twitter with rumour; it’s incredible how quickly untrue speculation spreads, the most chilling part of which was that a child had gone missing. Passenger Services started naming people who should make contact. The captain made a grim-sounding request for the person who had sounded the alarm to identify themselves. A Greek coastguard boat was spotted heading towards us. But by now, the flare had burned itself out and the sun had set.

The crowds dispersed and people ambled into dinner, where I kept a vigil by the window; at this point, the ship was almost stationary in the water as the search continued. I don’t know how you’re supposed to react in a situation like this; it seemed like something potentially so enormous and so tragic, but most people just kept on eating. On the other hand, what else were they supposed to do?

Eventually, the captain made another announcement and the entire dining room fell quiet; you could have heard a pin drop. The person who sounded the alarm had failed to identify themselves; the crew had done all they could; nobody had seen a person in the water or, indeed, the blue sunlounger which had caught the alarm-sounder’s attention in the first place; and we would resume our course to Piraeus.

So it was a false alarm that turned out to affect a lot of people. The officers, the engine room crew, the dining room service crew, all the passengers who were separated from their family at the time, the Greek coastguard… I imagine one passenger is feeling very foolish indeed today. But the episode has certainly given me a thorough respect for the intense emergency training that cruise ships’ crew receive.

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, News

This is one young cruise!

Two things have really surprised me so far about my cruise on Ruby Princess, both of which make me realise that the cruising ‘trends’ we journalists talk about are often too glib or generalised.

First, the age group on board. Yes, it’s summer in the Mediterranean so there are bound to be a lot of families travelling. But this is a really young cruise. If a first-time cruiser were ever to worry about being in the company of the over-seventies, I’d show them this voyage as a snapshot that would dispel the cruising age myth in a flash. There are more than 250 teenagers registered for the teen club alone; there are masses of couples in their twenties and thirties; young honeymooners; forty- and fifty-somethings without kids and a large number of big multigenerational groups (that’s one trend we have got right!). If anything, the archetypal cruiser – sixties, retired, empty nesters – is the minority here.

Of course, a cruise out of peak season would have a completely different demographic but looking around the bronzing bodies on the Lido Deck makes me wonder why I spend so much time trying to convince non-cruisers that the average age really is dropping.

The second big surprise was formal night last night, the first of two. I spend plenty of time nowadays writing about how formal dress is more relaxed than it used to be and how cruising is so deconstructed now that you really don’t need to bother much, especially in the Med in summer – and how wrong I was about Ruby Princess. It was like a posh school prom crossed with the Oscars. Small boys in tuxedos and shiny shoes. Teenage girls in lavish, sequinned prom gowns and impossible heels. Long dresses everywhere, glitter galore.

I expect there were a fair few skulking up in the casual Horizon Café in their tracky pants but I take back everything I’ve said about dressing down in the heat of summer. If I’ve realised anything this week, it’s that cruising is so diverse nowadays that there is no place any more for sweeping generalisations.

SJB

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Filed under Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, Opinion

Table for three

Cruise lines have plenty of events for single travellers

Most big cruise lines offer social activities for minority or special interest groups, but I’ve never seen a line embrace the subject as enthusiastically as Princess Cruises does.

On the day we boarded (Monday), there was a Singles’ Mingle, which I missed as we were having dinner, a special gathering for 18-20 year olds, who are too old for the teen club, and a GLBT Get-Together (whatever happened to Friends of Dorothy?).

On Tuesday, the Friends of Bill W had a meeting (for those of you who are not familiar with the term, this is the wording used in the daily programme for an AA group and all big cruise ships have them).  I missed the Singles’ Mingle yet again on Wednesday as it was at a weird time (5.15) and we were swimming, although the golfers, scrabble players, GLBT and 18-20s on board all had a chance to hook up.

Today is a sea day and it’s non-stop opportunities for finding kindred spirits. There are social events for bridge players, first-time cruisers, Service Club members, GLBT passengers and freemasons, a Friends of Bill W meeting, a veterans’ gathering and a service for anybody wanting to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath.

No Singles’ Mingle today, though, which makes me worry that I’ve missed the boat, as it were. Maybe all the singles paired off on the first couple of days?

I appreciate that I’m including a religious event and an AA support group with the social activities all in one stream of thought here, but it seems there is something to encourage everybody to connect – except me, as a single parent on a cruise. Even if there were a single parents’ mingle, I expect I’d be the only one there as I haven’t spotted any other obvious candidates. Everybody is either paired off or travelling in a big group. The three of us – me and two kids – certainly seem a curiosity to the crew and every time we sit down in a bar or restaurant, I am asked, “Where is your husband?”

I don’t mind at all and this is not a sob story, although we are thinking of inventing some colourful reason as to why he’s not here; ran off with a showgirl, perhaps, or on a secret mission somewhere. It just seems strange to me that more single parents aren’t attracted to cruising, as it’s such an easy holiday. The kids love it, I’m quite happy lying around reading, we’re ashore every day and we’re very happy having dinner together and going to the shows in the evenings.  But if I did want to hook up with people, it might be easier if I were travelling solo, a scrabble enthusiast or a masonic Friend of Dorothy.

SJB

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Filed under Amenities, Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, Singles Cruises

Cruising the Med on Ruby Princess

While Carolyn, our editor-in-chief, explores Britain on Holland America Line’s Westerdam, I’m heading off to the sunshine and sailing on Ruby Princess  from Rome to Venice, via Monaco, Livorno, Naples and the Greek Islands. 

Ruby Princess

It may be a slightly unconventional trip. As I have my children (aged 11 and 13) with me, we’ll probably skip Ephesus and shop for bling in the market in Kusadasi, while there are demands for a beach trip from Katakolon instead of a cultural day at Olympia.

For Corfu, I’ve already located the Aqualand theme park and the bus that will get us there. The only concession to sightseeing my kids have made is Pompeii.

The way I see it, it’s going to be extremely hot and this is a family holiday, not my personal cultural odyssey around the ancient Mediterranean. So I’m contenting myself with the fact that in the absence of much that their school teachers would approve of, my kids will at least experience a bit of local culture, as they’ll be travelling by Italian train, Corfiot bus, Greek donkey (in Santorini) and on foot up to the crater of Vesuvius after Pompeii.

On board, we intend to eat our way round the ship (happy memories from previous meals in Sabatini’s!), check out the kids’ club (them), go to the gym every day (me, famous last words), celebrate a birthday and watch movies under the stars.

I’ll also be attending my first Cruise Critic ‘meet ‘n’ mingle’, having signed up to the roll call for this cruise, and am looking forward to meeting some ‘real’ members, instead of virtual ones!

Keep checking back as it’s going to be a busy week on the Cruise Critic blog! SJB

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Filed under Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise

Dine With Nick Stars!

This morning I had one of the most lively breakfasts of my life. The location: The colourful Spiegel Tent on Norwegian Epic. The event: A character breakfast with the stars of Nickelodeon.

Now, since this isn’t a revenue cruise – and  the ship is mostly full of weary travel agents who may have had one too many glasses of Champagne last night – the atmosphere was perhaps not quite as electric as it would be on a regular cruise when families will be flocking into this eatery.

However, we got into the spirit of things, and as our cooked breakfast came out (sausage, eggs, bacon, pancakes),  so did the stars of the kids TV programmes.

SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron (who posed for a picture with me!) and pals paraded on stage and sang their rendition of “Celebration” – that certainly woke us up!

There were a couple of children in the restaurant and when we were all given the chance to meet the characters, you could see the excitement on their faces. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of fully grown adults standing in line to have their photos taken with the stars!

It’s a great addition for NCL, and if you’re planning to sail with your kids, definitely try to check it out – it’s on three times a cruise and you can book in the Box Office. For children aged 4-12 the cost is $10 per child; ages 13 and upwards, the fee is $15 per person.

KR

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Filed under Amenities, Dining, Entertainment, Family Cruises, New Ships