Along with stilettos and loose-fitting hats, are kids best left at home when it comes to expedition cruising? Nyssa Erskine embarks on a voyage with her two young children (and partner) to find out.
When it comes to my five and seven year olds, I generally know the limits of what we can and cannot do when it comes keeping our cool. I know confidently, we can do a half day at the zoo and happily munch on popcorn while we watch a movie, but a 4-hour flight might be pushing the boundaries. Keeping this in mind when the chance comes up to partake in a six-day expedition cruise, I wonder would this work?
After spending 5-nights cruising New Zealand’s Stewart Island and Fiordland, the short answer is: yes! But the long answer is: there are a few things I’d consider before going on a family expedition cruise…
The Age of your kids
Many expedition cruises aren’t suitable for young children due to safety reasons, but also because it may not be enjoyable for children (or their parents and other passengers) to have them on board, so it’s always good to check the activities and excursions offered on the cruise, as well as the length of the trip, to determine if it’s a good fit for your family.
On our cruise, my kids are the youngest ones there and they were really only just at the age where they could understand what was going on and have fun along the way. The trip length of five nights was just the right amount of time for us also, any longer and their patience and interest would have waned.
The pre-teens on board were a little more confident and relished the opportunity to have extra independence in the confines of the ship. They are enthusiastic on excursions and keen to explore independently, with playing games in the library and mingling with the crew on the bridge being favourite places to gather. I did notice a few fellow passengers’ eyeballs roll when they excitedly piped up, but just as many passengers also reported back saying they enjoyed having younger passengers on board as their curiosity and energy was infectious.
The teenagers on board tended were hardly noticeable. Perhaps not as enthused by the older demographic on board, in their downtime, they tended to retreat to their cabins and devices rather than socialising in common areas. But from what I understand about teenagers, that’s not uncommon no behaviour and from all reports, they were happy with the cruise.
Unlike big cruise ships, there are no nannies, kids’ club, cinemas or playgrounds to keep the kids entertained. Expedition cruising is generally done on small ships that can easily traverse in and out of hard-to-reach destinations, so there is more emphasis on the destination (rather than the ride so to speak).
Having said that, there are generally plenty of activities and excursions that are appropriate for kids on expedition cruises including snorkelling, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife viewing. Make sure to read the itinerary carefully and ask questions about the activities offered.
Each day we enjoyed Zodiac cruises and my girls loved whizzing around small bays and islands encountering wildlife such as seals, dolphins and native birds. On shore there were opportunities to visit points of interest such as nature reserves, historical sites and the township of Oban in Stewart Island.
Hikes and walks were offered each day, and we were able to participate in most of them. As Fiordland is known for its untouched landscape, there were a couple of the hikes which had steep ascents, stream crossing and obstacles such as large rocks, so we opted out of those excursion. However, when we remained on board we noticed there were in fact many others who had stayed behind for various reasons. Instead of a hike we went on an extra Zodiac ride, spent time in the spa, caught an extra lecture and tag-teamed while the other parent used the gym.
Check to see if the cruise ship has family-friendly accommodations, such as cabins that can accommodate more people or connecting rooms. You may also want to consider amenities like a swimming pool or library, which can help keep your children entertained during downtime.
Most cabins are set up to accommodate two people at the most, so our family is separated over two opposing rooms, which were spacious with couch, desk, private ensuite and plenty of storage. While we felt completely safe on board, my husband and I split rooms so we could have one child with us. The families with older children tended to go for a parents room and kids retreat style set-up.
Expedition cruising is known for its learning opportunities and educational programs particularly those of a cultural or nature-based theme, which appeal to adults and children alike.
On our cruise there is a raft of on board experts (historians, naturalists and conservationists just to name a few) who ran lectures and lead expeditions, imparting their knowledge along the way. Tapping into this was key to our on board enjoyment. We made game of collecting knowledge into scrap books and encouraged the girls to ask questions and listen closely to the experts who were more than happy to relay their knowledge to a younger crowd.
Make sure to pack appropriately for the expedition, including clothing and gear for all the activities and excursions. We packed the girls’ gumboots as the supplied muck boots only came in adult sizes. Our wet weather gear and sand fly spray also came in handy in Fiordland’s damp environment.
While we were overfed at meal times and cookies were available in at bar 24/7, you may also want to bring snacks and motion sickness lollies just in case.
Entertainment options for your kids, such as books or games, is also crucial for successful downtime. While the girls weren’t as interested in socialising in the bar at happy hour as we were, but we brought them along with books, devices and snacks to keep them occupied. We soon realised that’s what the other parents were doing too and before we knew it, the kids started making their own friends and were just as keen for happy hour as us.
Our expedition looked a little different to what it would have been without kids, but we didn’t actually miss out on anything as there were always plenty of family-friendly alternatives to enjoy.
It was a privilege and pleasure to be able to take my girls on an expedition cruise and gladly the significance of which wasn’t lost on them. We all appreciated a family holiday like no other and the only other thing I can liken the learning opportunities on board to is being onset of a David Attenborough documentary, the knowledge and opportunity was at that level.
While we did feel on the verge of cabin fever at times with nowhere to escape, the cruise was definitely worth it and now that we’ve got a taste for it, we’re already researching where we’d like to travel to next!
Nyssa and her family travelled through Fiordland aboard Heritage Adventurer. For more about the trip visit www.wildearth-travel.com/trip/unseen-fiordland-stewart-island-heritage
A Note on Health & Safety
Safety should always be a top priority when cruising with kids. Be sure to research the safety protocols and procedures of the cruise company and the specific expedition you are considering. It's also a good idea to discuss safety measures with your children before the trip, so they understand the importance of following the rules and staying safe.
If any of your children have medical needs, be sure to discuss this with the cruise company before booking. You may need to bring extra medication or equipment, or the ship may have special accommodations to meet your child's needs.