Cruising in the 21st century just keeps on getting better, with more and more innovation on-board than you can shake a stick at! Super hi-tech gadgets, Wi-Fi speeds that match those on land and quicker embarkation are just three of the features that cruisers on Royal Caribbean’s latest megaships can look forward to but sometimes it’s the simplest of things that can make a passenger smile and for those of us who like informality, casual cruises are that simple thing!
Casual cruises may be very different to what old-school cruising veterans may be used to or what firt time cruisers imagine cruising to be but for those who prefer not to cram their case with tuxedos, diamonds (or cubic zirconias – ssssh, we won’t tell), skyscraper heels and sequinned pashminas, the option for a casual break sailing on the oceans is like a refreshing sea breeze.
Whilst some formal cruise lines still exist, where elegance and formality are key and dressing up to the nines is both required and relished (*cough* Cunard *cough*), it does seem that the tide is turning. More and more cruise lines are opting for the more laidback approach, where people can feel comfortable in a posh frock or tux or dressed down in a pair of chinos or a sundress…where guests can relax with their kids and not worry about people complaining about the odd tantrum (which are sometimes unavoidable, even with Shrek, Mickey or Spongebob in the vicinity!)…and where dining, in the traditional sense, has been scraped off the plate and replaced with something far more flexible and relaxed. Here, www.CRUISE.co.uk take a look at our five top casual cruises, should you be after laid-back luxury and fun, not laced-up luxury and formality
Whilst there’s still ample opportunity to dress up on-board an MSC cruise, the dress code is a little more relaxed than its competitors in the first class cruising category. There are plenty of informal party nights during a stint at sea, like the 70’s style Flower Glory Party (don’t forget your flares!) or the Brazilian riot that is the Carnival Party but if you’re dying for an excuse to pull out the fancy frock and the killer heels you can at the Officers & Gentleman gala evening.
Families will be pleased to know that kids are welcome and well-catered for on MSC ships. Teens can have their own ‘Teen Cards’ which act as room keys (so no hanging around for their dad to have another beer before they can go back to the stateroom) and are also a prepay card which gives the desperate-to-be-grownups a little taste of independence – don’t worry, they can’t buy booze with it! There’s also a long list of youth activities available in the various age-appropriate kids clubs (including the Holy Trinity of games consoles, Playstation, Xbox and Wii) and if there’s an excursion you want to go on but you know the kids will drag their feet if you take them with you, the staff will make sure they are kept happy and occupied on-board and will eat lunch when you’re away, too!
Make no mistake, MSC is a luxury line but with themed nights and a packed entertainment programme for all ages, it’s one that firmly holds onto a sense of fun.
Casual, casual, Carnival! Carnival recommends you pack plenty of casual clothing, like shorts, slacks (you know, like trousers but comfier!), summer dresses and polo shirts – after all, their cruises are all about relaxation and fun-filled days at sea, not tugging at a tie in discomfort! When it comes to the evenings, Carnival do have a ‘cruise elegant’ night or two but even then, you don’t have to dig out the pearls – there’s no requirement for a suit/tux or evening gown, even on the formal evenings and if you really can’t be bothered to dress up at all, in the Lido Restaurant anything goes (as long as you are actually dressed!), so you can still enjoy your dinner without worrying about how your expanding waistline will fit into the cummerbund.
In the evenings you’ll find a crate-full of casual entertainment options, including the ‘hopping’ Red Frog Pub, the Punchliner Comedy Club and the EA Sports Bar – plus shows, club nights, quizzes and even concerts on Carnival Live cruises (so don’t forget that band t-shirt!).
Plus, a Carnival cruise is perfect for families too. Youth clubs and activities are piled high – including the kids’ clubs Camp Carnival, Circle C and Club O2, the Carnival WaterWorks waterparks and SportsSquare – so there shouldn’t be any whinges or groans of boredom onboard this family friendly fleet. Entertainment in the evenings includes the fun Hasbro The Game Show, Dive-In Movies, the Thrill Theatre and stage shows that are suitable for kids, and the Camp Carnival Night Owls programme allows the grownups to unwind and have a late night in the Red Frog without worrying about the inevitable tantrums coming from their overtired children. So that’s your next family holiday sorted!
When it comes to family cruises, one of the vital pre-requisites is that the setting is child-friendly and as far as that’s concerned, it doesn’t get better than Disney – what could be more child-friendly than an onboard ‘Andy’s Room’ and ‘Monster Academy’? Some cruise liners are merely ‘tolerant’ of children and others have no facilities for them at all but with Disney, kids aren’t just tolerated, they’re treated like little princes and princesses. After all, it’s Disney! Not only is there usually just one formal night per cruise (where the glitzy frock is optional anyway) but there are also opportunities to don the pirate or tropical gear at one of the deck parties – so ditch the tux and make some room in your luggage for that Hawaiian shirt that your wife would prefer gathered mothballs than see the light of day!
If you would prefer to dress up a little for dinner, Remy on Dream and Fantasy would be the place to do it; it’s where a pair of tailored trousers and jacket wouldn’t look out of place. It’s also an exclusive restaurant just for the grownups, so you can enjoy an intimate French-cuisine meal for two while the kids skip the frog’s legs and enjoy dinner with Mickey and co in the Oceaneer Club and the teens occupy themselves playing video games and hanging out with their cruise mates in the Vibe youth club. When you want to eat together as a family you can rotate between your ship’s three main dining rooms (so you’ll never get bored!), which could include Animator’s Palate (complete with innovative dinner show), the elegant Enchanted Garden or relaxed Parrot Cay. Or, if the kids really can’t wait, Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, Pluto’s Dog House and Goofy’s Gallery are just three of the ‘rock up and eat’ quick service options onboard. Hunger tantrums will disappear like magic!
Royal Caribbean is one of the lines that put fun cruise holidays on the world map, especially the incredible Oasis and Freedom class megaships which boast a range of fun features between them including carousels, waterparks, ice skating rinks, surf simulators and loads more. And now the new Quantum class ships will take onboard fun to new heights with iFly skydiving tunnels, plus bumper cars and rollerskates in SeaPlex and the solarium ‘adult hangout’. These three Royal Caribbean fleets also offer the DreamWorks experience, where kids can get to know Shrek, Po and the Madagascar gang, while the Dynamic Dining concept that is steadily rolling out across the fleet, starting with Quantum and Oasis class ships, means that dining is as flexible as your days at sea.
When it comes to what to wear, Royal Caribbean ships have a casual vibe but evenings are split into three categories so that there’s an occasion for everyone. Casual evenings mean polo shirts and sundresses, smart casual equals ‘you might want to pop on a jacket and tie’ and formal nights are a chance to dress to impress in suits, ties, tuxes and cocktail dresses. There are always more casual nights than formal on cruises of any length and, of course, the variety of dining options on Royal Caribbean megaships mean that you can always skip the formal nights altogether if you want to!
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Lines made waves ages ago by stepping out of the ‘formal cruising’ box and offering their cruisers the ‘Freestyle’ experience. It’s because of these guys that other lines, such as RCI, are now sailing in their wake by doing similar things (*cough* Dynamic Dining). Norwegian Cruise Line’s innovative ‘Freestyle’ thinking means that they are probably the best option if you’re after a cruise that’s truly casual, as long as you can handle the garish colours and OTT décor, that is!
Tradition has been thrown out of the porthole on Norwegian Cruises with a dress code labelled as ‘resort casual’ (which means you can wear what you like, within reason – hole-ridden jeans or a two-piece at the dinner table would be a step too far, perhaps), and with no formal nights or gala parties to glam up for (instead they have ‘Dress Up or Not Nights’!), NCL’s Freestyle concept is the epitome of cool, chilled and casual cruising.
The Freestyle dining experience means that there is no set dining time, nor is there a particular seat at a particular table with your name on it – instead, there’s a choice of at least ten restaurants, including the complimentary Main Dining Room and specialities such as Cagney’s Steakhouse and Teppanyaki, depending on what you fancy.
Of course, kids will be kept happy onboard with waterparks, Splash Academy, circus school, King’s Camp Sports, the Entourage Club, ten pin bowling, Wii on the big screen and the Nickelodean gang (selected ships), plus loads more. They might even leave mum and dad alone long enough for them to hit the spa or the award-winning casino, before meeting up later to see the Blue Man Group or Legends in Concert tribute show. NCL make amazing family cruises easy.
If you’d prefer not to worry about the gem-encrusted pashmina or the penguin suit then you’ll be happy to know that there are lots of cruises available nowadays where they’re not a requirement – the days of Titanic style cruising are (thankfully!) long gone! This means you can pack your suitcases with clothing that’s more comfortable and relaxing (or just leave plenty of space for the souvenirs that you’ll undoubtedly collect along the way).
Our top five casual cruising ships are genuinely family friendly, have a range of dining options to suit your mood and you can get away with casual clothes for the entire cruise (but still have the option to dress up if you want to). Changing the face of cruising for a new generation, casual cruises focus on fun, not fuss, so you can holiday your way.
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