I don't know who was more excited, our grandkids or us.
At a family gathering, wife Pat and I announced that we were going on another cruise - and this time taking our families. It was only a short trip, five days from Melbourne to Sydney, via Burnie and Hobart on the 1990-passenger ship, Dawn Princess.
For each child, Pat had prepared folders from cuttings in brochures, showing such wonderful things as a waiter delivering free popcorn while the family watches movies on a giant screen beside the pool. The grandkids, Wyatt, 10, Link 9, Trent, 9, and Zoe, 8, all love popcorn. Pictures of the size of the ship, location of cabins, the games room with wii and the gymnasium had them enthralled and excited.
Son-in-law Toby, a first time cruiser, couldn't believe the number of restaurants and snack bars available. Hamburgers, hot dogs and yiros/kebabs by the pool, Italian food in the pizzeria, afternoon tea in the dining room and, of course, the casual dining buffet and the fine dining restaurants.
He also didn't believe that you could go through the four course menu - which often includes such luxurious dishes as lobster, pheasant, escargot and frogs legs, as well as normal dishes, and that everything was included in the price of the fare.
The big day came and the size of the massive ship brought jaw- dropping "oohs" and "aahhs" from the mesmerised kids. After a seamless boarding process, and a picture taken by one of the ship's photographers, one look at the impressive interior and Link said, "I can't believe this is really a ship" as he gazed in awe at the multi-storey atrium.
We toured the ship and, on the sports court on the 15th floor, they threw a few hoops and had a few hits of paddle tennis. Then it was on to the designated kid's corner, The Pelican Club for 3 to 7 years old, Shockwaves 8-12, and Remix Teen Lounge for 13-17. The centres are staffed by experienced counsellors dedicated to making the voyage the best ever holiday. They can organise, for the young ones, kids-only dance parties, movies and cartoons, theme nights, ice cream and pizza parties. Also, for the 8-12 group there is wii, video games, scavenger hunts, kids-only dinners, karaoke and talent shows, and junior chef projects. Teens can add sports tournaments, formal dinners, mocktail competitions, hip-hop dance classes, teen makeovers, and even a casino night.
Security is strict, with areas only accessible through locked doors. Registration forms must be filled out. For 3 to 7, parents need to bring photo ID and sign children in and out. Group 8-12 can sign themselves in and out if they have parental permission on the registration form. Teens can come and go as they please.
On shore days, parents can leave children to be entertained and supervised on the ship while off on a shore excursion. Late night kids sitting services from 10pm til 1am for 3-12 ages carries the nominal fee of $5 an hour per child. Special needs children can also be accommodated. Children under three are welcome with a parent, but staff are not permitted to change nappies or administer medication.
Each evening, early seating dinner was a nightly treasure. Cruising is wonderful for doing your own thing during the day, then returning to discuss the day's adventures with table companions - and being with family made it so special.
The children could choose between the regular menu or a special menu containing favourites like cheeseburgers, spaghetti and chicken strips, all with chips. This was also the case when we went to the exclusive Sterling Steakhouse which serves "the best steaks in the world".
There is a $20 per person charge to visit this restaurant. Son David and son-in-law Toby chose the giant 625 gram steaks -- and to our amazement, both managed to finish them. All waiting staff were wonderful. In the main dining room, Emma, our table stewardess, was like a mother hen, making sure the children were enjoying themselves and helping choose from the menu.
The photographers on board took some beautifully lit photos of our group as well as individual portraits. We took full advantage of the opportunity of no sitting fee and only $20 per A4 glossy print.
My main enjoyment came from watching the children have such a good time. One evening in the Vista lounge a ventriloquist had Link laughing so hard I was sure he'd fall off his chair.
All the entertainment on board was spectacular and suitable for the young ones. The British Invasion was a big production show featuring British music from the 60s to today.
We were encouraged to sing along with evergreens such as Yellow Submarine and We are the Champions. The kids obliged with gusto. String Fever, a talented husband and wife duo, with she on cello and he playing violin, had a diverse repertoire - including Mozart, played as if he'd been born in Tamworth!
The consensus of the voyage: "Please, when can we go on a longer cruise?"