We sailed on the P&O ship, the Azura, earlier this year with my 6-year-old son H. This is a look at the facilities on the ship from a parent’s perspective. I’ll comment on things for younger or older children when I can too.
Buffet meals are very child friendly. You can get the child to pick what they like and have as much or as little of each thing as they want. You can eat from buffets for every meal, although the one day we did this I found it a bit boring, so we tended to stick to buffets for breakfast and lunch with dinner as a waiter service meal.
At busy times it can be difficult to get a table in the self-service restaurants, especially when there are more than two of you, as it is more difficult to share a table with another party. There are also some selfish people who will reserve a table with bags or drinks, while you are searching for a table with your food rapidly cooling. One option is to go in shifts to the buffet while the other gets a table. Another is to go sit around the other side of the restaurant if that side is closed for service (often they will close one side to clean out and get ready for the next meal, so they can provide continuous food, but there is nothing to stop you sitting in this section except a slightly longer walk).
High chairs are provided and there seemed to be plenty to go around. They are folded up and placed around the room against the wall when not in use. I didn’t see any children’s cutlery, so this might be something to consider bringing with you. For sit down meals there was a children’s menu. This had all the usual items you find on children’s menus like chicken nuggets, fish fingers, etc. You could have them with your choice of carb: usually chips in our case if I’m honest. We insisted that H have his meal with the vegetable of the day to provide some better nutrition. H usually had bread with us and then his main course would arrive with our starters. Often that filled him up, but puddings were available.
Many of the staff clearly love children. H was the favourite of many of the waiters and he was presented with numerous gifts made from various items that were to hand: a champagne bottle top chair, a jumping frog from a menu, etc. I think many of the staff were working away from their families for long periods of time and probably missed their own children.
Child care comes in the form of kids clubs. I can’t really tell you much about these because H refused to go to them. He even refused when I offered to go in with him. It wasn’t anything to do with the clubs that was the problem: he’s just not keen on that sort of thing.
The downside to the kids clubs is that you have to stay on board if your child is in the club, so no chance of going off to do that excursion that isn’t suitable for the children. Another issue we noticed is that options for evening childcare were limited. For children up to 5 they can go in the night nursery. Older children can go along and watch DVDs until 10pm. Neither would have worked for us. H was too old for the night nursery, but I wouldn’t be happy with him watching DVDs till 10pm as he doesn’t sleep in after a late night. Hence, we didn’t get to go to any of the evening entertainment. For the most part we weren’t that bothered, but it would have been nice to go see Skyfall at the cinema by the pool.
Most of the pools were available for children to use on board our ship the Azura. That said, all the pools were quite deep. In fact, the only pool we as parents could comfortably stand up in was the Terrace Pool. The others were too deep for that or we could only stand on our very tip toes. If you are helping a child to swim or wanting to play with them, this makes life a little difficult as you naturally need to stand up. It also means that a learner swimmer can’t touch the bottom which has pluses and minuses. There is a small splash pool for very young children.
Children could go to a dedicated games room with wiis and play games. We tried this as it seemed a good way to while away some time on a sea day. It didn’t really work for us. The TVs were set up quite high in the room. H could see them, but he was struggling to get the right angle to control the wii because he wasn’t tall enough to get the angle for the sensor. It seemed strange that a room geared up for kids wasn’t very kid friendly.
H had his own special life jacket provided by our room steward on the first evening. It was different to the adult ones. Spare children’s life jackets are also held in the lockers on the promenade deck (where you would go to in an emergency). We had a safety briefing on the first night which H mostly slept through, but at least we knew where to go if the worst should happen.
H is quite a cautious child and scared of heights, so we had no worries about safety on the boat. There are safety railings, etc. and it would take a deliberate action, I think, to go overboard or fall from a balcony. Obviously, if your child is a bit of a daredevil, you’d need to keep a closer eye.
H couldn’t go on all the excursions because of age restrictions. Many of the snorkelling or canoeing ones aren’t for under 8s. Also, some of the trips wouldn’t be suitable because they might involve too much walking. Sadly we had booked for a child friendly excursion: a Capital Clue Hunt which was cancelled because there weren’t enough people booked on it. The same went for another trip we tried to book on to a zoo. This might be because it was during term time as there weren’t many children on board the ship.
Generally, we found kids on a cruise ship was a good combination. There’s plenty of interest in watching the ship docking or casting off. A new port each day keeps them interested too. I’m not so sure I’d want to take a child on a trip that involved a lot of sea days, but our son enjoyed the 3 sea days that we had on our two week cruise as they meant lots of pool time and ship exploring.