Unpack your bags just once and enjoy some family cruising
WRITE down your ideal family holiday. Comfortable accommodation. Tick. Choice of restaurants with plenty of menu options for fussy eaters. Tick.
Age-appropriate activities, sports and top-class entertainment. Tick. Great facilities - lounge bars, pools, play areas and kids' clubs. Tick. The chance to visit exciting new destinations. Tick.
Our first overseas trip was a family cruise - one of the best holidays we've ever had because it ticked all the boxes with added bonuses.
For example, your floating hotel goes with you, so the family unpacks once and has more time to play. You don't have to drive anywhere but can still find yourself in the most exotic places from one day to the next. You don't have to cook, clear away the dishes, make the bed or even pick up after yourself if you don't want to - the "United Nations" of crew members will do that, with a smile to boot.
And the all-inclusive holiday means you're not forever putting your hand in your pocket.
You only pay for drinks, spa treatments, shore tours and boutique purchases.
The hardest decision is how you'll spend your day and what to order at dinner. And cruising holidays are particularly well-suited to families.
For days at sea, our boys and their new "crew" of friends spent time chilling out in the supervised teens' club but also enjoyed the freedom of exploring the ship and making the most of the daily program of games and competitions.
In the ports, we could learn far more about dots on the map than we could ever learn from travel books, with the diverse range of shore tours covering the scenic route, cultural diversity and adrenaline-charged activities.
Combined with a little independent travel on foot, we could discover historical landmarks and world-famous beaches, try local delicacies and traditional refreshments, become beachcombers and snorkel vibrant reefs.
Meal time was family time: time to talk excitedly about our adventures without the usual distractions of making dinner, texting at the table and eyes on the tellie.
We'd end each day with an all-singing, all-dancing production in the theatre or concert in a lounge bar before falling into bed, rocked soundly asleep by the waves.
I don't think the smile left our faces the whole trip.
Of course, happy kids mean happy parents.
So with plenty of time for kids to be kids, mum and dad had their own playtime - a massage in the spa, stroll around the decks in the fresh air, coffee in the cafe, drinks by the pool or perhaps a cooking demonstration.
We even managed a "date night" or two: dressing up for cocktails and trying our luck at the casino before dinner with the boys.
More than a decade later, we still hold fond memories of the cruisy holiday that opened our eyes to the big wide world.
Our boys learned a great deal and grew up a lot in 10 days.
But in the end, the cruise was an education for mum and dad, too - mostly because it taught us what a great family holiday looks like.
A few do's and don'ts of family cruising
- DO take advantage of babysitting services (fees may apply), kids' and teens' clubs so the kids can make friends and be with people their own age while the adults enjoy some downtime.
- DO try to make family time and develop a routine.
- DO make the most of the services and facilities on board - maybe a yoga class or gym workout before breakfast or a relaxing facial or beauty treatment.
- DON'T try to cram too much into the holiday. Try a little of everything but also ensure you aren't rushing from one activity to another.
- DON'T take technology if you can help it. Try to enjoy your surroundings, talk to one another and explore new places together.
- DON'T live your holiday behind a lens. Photos of where you go, what you see and the family are great, but open your eyes and take it all in.