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Capturing young cruisers with imaginative activities has become the latest battleground. Nobody knows this better than the crews aboard Carnival’s fun ships.

There’s an art to creating great kid-friendly cruises. As Dr Seuss himself might advise, you have to embrace a Seuss-ism or two like: “From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere…”

Carnival’s two ships certainly have. 

It’s only five years since Carnival Spirit arrived in Australia to quickly establish a reputation as The Fun Ship. Since then, the line has become the go-to cruise experience for young families. The Green Thunder and WaterWorks, mini golf, the Cherry on Top. Oh, and did we mention Dr Seuss? They can all be found on Carnival Spirit or Carnival Legend.

But becoming a firm favourite among the youngest passengers takes more than a flash franchise and a waterslide.

It comes down to two things: value for money (a major draw card when deciding on a holiday with kids) and an incredibly well trained, happy and attentive crew.

Permanently based in Sydney does give Spirit an advantage over other interlopers that call either Asia or USA home for half the year. It means Spirit’s crew knows Australians really well. They know what makes us tick, our likes and most importantly our dislikes, which makes us feel like home when we’re on the ship.

As for value, Spirit definitely stacks up. Constantly swiping your sail-and-sign card for items such as ice-cream, poolside burgers and pizzas, and onboard adventure programs on other cruise lines is quite annoying and actually undermines the all-inclusive aspect of why you booked your family cruise holiday in the first place.

With inclusions on board Spirit such as award-winning buns from Guys Burger, unlimited soft-serve ice-cream, freshly made pizza 24-hours a day, dive-in poolside movies and, of course, those water slides, you can safely keep that charge card in your pocket. 

Carnival also made the bold decision not to sell drinks packages to ensure responsible drinking. As a dad looking for a safe environment, that’s another big thumbs up.

And in case you do want to imbibe, Carnival’s pay-as-you-go beer, wine and even frozen cocktails are priced at around $10. So unless you’re a very big drinker, you’re probably better off for it.

Shore excursions are another cost consideration when cruising with youngsters, so it’s pleasing to know Carnival offers discounted child pricing on a selection. In the popular year-round South Pacific ports such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, we found just under 100 both thrilling and cultural adventures ashore with kids pricing from just $20 – some at half the adult rate.

Empire Dining Room comes alive every night with a Showtime performance from the ship’s multi-talented wait staff, often engaging the backing of the passengers who are usually on their feet and clapping along to outrageously kitsch but entertaining 80s hits.

The fussy eaters in the family are also very well catered for, with a great kids’ menu presenting favourites such as spaghetti and meatballs, nuggets and chips, mac and cheese, plus of course plenty of fruit and veggies. Let’s not forget dessert. “You want two Banana Splits, no problem”, Carnival’s maître d’ will tell you.

Like most ships cruising from Australia, Carnival Spirit has a good age-relevant Kids Club. Camp Carnival, with an astounding array of activities throughout the day and night, always pleases. And Camp Ocean is the line’s excellent marine life educational program.

Tweens and Teens are definitely not forgotten. In fact, they’ll most likely forget about you, hanging out at Circle C, for kids aged between 12 and 14, or Club O2 for kids between 15 and 17.

It’s definitely the place to be seen for Carnival’s younger cruisers, where they can try their hand (and hand-eye coordination) at sports, watch movies and listen to their favourite music. Club O2 even arranges special teen-only shore excursions, so they can take on cool adventures and see new cultures with their friends. It’s a brilliant initiative that really creates a sense of community.

And adults aren’t neglected. And with so much for their offspring, a visit to Serenity, the adults-only retreat overlooking the calming churn of the ships wake at the stern, is almost entirely guilt free.

This masterstroke of childfree bliss provides ample private relaxation pods and double hammocks surrounding the very welcoming adults only pool and hot tub. With friendly roaming drink waiters and easy access to snacks in the adjacent buffet, the danger is you won’t ever want to leave.

The Verdict

Highs: The outstanding Carnival Spirit crew. Their infectious, friendly vibe imminently wears off onto the majority of passengers, who soon after boarding drop their guard, find their inner exuberance and join in the fun.

Lows: With no real set limit to the number of children on board, (other than at least one adult per cabin), Spirit does attract plenty of kids. Particularly during school holiday periods, where the main pool areas can become a little intense for some. Head for Serenity.

Best suited to: Carnival’s management team proclaims their ships are for “fun loving, free spirited families and couples” and are first to admit that their family friendly product may not be for everyone. But when it comes to providing a genuine value-packed and entraining cruise holiday, Carnival Spirit definitely delivers.

FACT FILE

CRUISE LINE: Carnival Cruise Line

VESSEL: Carnival Spirit

STAR RATING: 3

PASSENGER CAPACITY: 2,124

TOTAL CREW: 930

PASSENGER DECKS: 12

ENTERED SERVICE: 2001

TONNAGE: 85,920

FACILITIES: Three pools, five hot tubs, library, casino, Water Park, Sanctuary adults-only retreat, three-deck show lounge, bars, restaurants, SpaCarnival with solarium, gym, sauna, beauty parlor and gym.