Richard Hercock took his family on a Mediterranean cruise and discovered life was just a Breeze.
I should have twigged when my four-year-old son Thomas said he didn’t want to go visit Mount Etna.
Thomas has been fascinated with volcanoes since a very young age, an avid watcher of kids’ television show Little Einsteins, so the promise of an adventure in Sicily had been one of the must-do things on our 12-day Mediterranean cruise aboard Carnival Breeze.
Setting out on his own adventure up a volcano, swimming in clear blue seas in Croatia, and eating ice cream in Venice were just some of the activities Thomas had planned for his summer holiday.
But that was all before he stepped foot inside Camp Carnival, or “kids’ club” as Thomas tagged it, which is the Breeze’s activity centre for children and teens.
We had taken Thomas on a couple of cruises before the Breeze – a 130,000-tonne 14-deck vessel carrying 3,690 guests with 1,386 crew – but had found them to be nowhere near as child-friendly as Carnival. An American iconic brand, it has a reputation as a family cruise company, and it certainly lived up to its billing.
For Thomas was a huge fan of Camp Carnival. He asked to go before breakfast, after lunch, and would even be allowed to creep back for a twilight session in an evening if he had been on his best behaviour.
What made the Breeze different from our other cruise holidays, now the ship was the main attraction, rather than the ports on our itinerary.
Split into three age groups, trained staff arrange lots of fun activities for the youngsters –- from movie nights to treasure hunts. Whatever they were selling, Thomas was an eager customer. Strict check-in and check-out procedures also allayed our fears over whether the children would be secure and safe if left for a few hours. The only problem was trying to drag him away from his new-found friends so we could enjoy some quality family time. During the day that usually centred around the ship’s two main swimming pools or splashing around at WaterWorks, a mini on-board water park.
Here there are two water slides, numerous splash zones and PowerDrencher which pours a massive bucket of water over you which nearly sends you flying head over heels.
Watching Thomas and his 80-year-old grandad dripping wet, both with huge smiles on their faces, was one of those family snapshots which will long live in the memory.
With its first sailing this year, the Breeze was enjoying its maiden summer and despite having several thousand fellow travellers, the ship is gigantic. We spent 12 days exploring and, thankfully, Thomas never even found the video arcade. He did however, love the 3D Thrill Theatre, riding the glass-walled lifts in the impressive main atrium, and the cabaret shows at the theatre which whisked you away to a Broadway setting.
Meal times too with children is a lot more comfortable on the Breeze. You can just wander along to the informal Lido Marketplace, buffet-style eating which is perfect for young children, or you sit down and be waited upon at the more formal main dining room. If you want you can try the 24-hour room service – ideal for an early start on an all-day excursion – or spoil yourself, and your waistline, at the Sushi bar, Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ, Guy’s Burger Joint or BlueIguana Cantina.
While Carnival is an iconic USA brand, more and more non-Americans – and in particular British travellers – are looking for their own slice of the American dream. Maybe that’s to do with rising flight costs meaning folk don’t want to pay for trans-Atlantic trips, and view a Carnival cruise as the next best thing to experience the life state-side.
Whatever the reason, it’s something which Carnival acknowledges and they are set to base two ships in Europe next year, Carnival Legend will explore the Baltics while Carnival Sunshine will tour the Med. This is music to the ears of Englishman John Heald, Carnival’s senior cruise director, who has worked his way up through the company since trading his London banking job to become a cruise ship barman back in 1989.
The 47-year-old has seen the cruise industry transform over the last three decades and is delighted to welcome on board his fellow countrymen.
“One of the things British guests like is they mix with Americans,” said Heald, whose online blog had over nine million hits by 2011.
“The two mix so well. British people like Carnival because it’s not British.
“They love the brash music, the shows and the energy of Carnival. It’s American,” he added.
“For the record I love it because they have put English sausages and bacon on the breakfast menu now.
“We don’t want to change too much though because people like the American ship.”
One thing that has changed this year though is the attention to safety, after the sinking of the Costa Concordia in January when it ran aground on a reef off the coast of Italy, claiming 32 lives. Heald said the disaster was a “wake-up call for the industry” and now stringent safety checks are carried out – every room is checked to make sure people attend safety drills – while new escape shutes have been fitted to allow swift evacuation routes for the crew.
Carnival will operate two ships in Europe during 2013 – the Carnival Legend and the newly-refitted Carnival Sunshine (with the same specifications as the Breeze). The Carnival Legend will visit the Baltic and St Petersburg, Norway and Western Europe, the British Isles, Norway and France.
12-nights Baltic Wonders and St Petersburg, June 2013 to August 2013, from Dover: Roundtrip cruise from £1,069 to £1,439pp, taking in Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallin and Amsterdam.
Nine nights Grand Mediterranean: April to October 2013: Barcelona to Venice fly-cruise from £659 to £1,079pp (cruise only from £479pp) taking in Monaco, Livorno, Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples, Messina Sicily, Dubrovnik.
www.carnival.co.uk 0845 351 0556