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Cruising with a Baby - Marella (Tui) Discovery, Marella (Thomson) Cruises




Now I realise some of you may be thinking "that's not a cafe, Kym - you're going crazy" but I think this is important to post about as when we originally booked to go on our cruise the first item on Google was '9 Reasons Not to Take a Baby on a Cruise' which worried us to say the least. Also I did visit a cafe on the ship so technically I think this is OK - just a slightly extended review!

The cruise wasn't our idea, but my parents were going and suggested we should go with them. It being Millie's first holiday we thought it could be a great idea to have 4 extra hands if things went wrong... which they didn't, thankfully.

We went with Marella Cruises (previously Thomson Cruises) on the Marella (previously TUI) Discovery for 7 days in the Mediterranean visiting Majorca, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy and Sicily. My parents and I were cruise virgins so had no idea what to expect and I am so pleased to say that it was amazing - even with a baby!

I'm going to attempt to briefly review the cruise (and cafe) whilst putting together a little guide for anyone looking at going on a cruise with their little one themselves. Obviously standards will differ between each cruise line and ship but there will be some general points which will cover all cruises I expect, however I am basing this on the Marella Discovery with Marella (Thomson) Cruises.

The first thing to note is that like any holiday I'm sure, a cruise will be a completely different experience with a baby in tow than with no baby. There are things that you will be able to do, things that might be more difficult and things that are probably impossible, but we managed to make it work.

Packing


Packing with a baby. Oh. My. Lord. We were going for a week but the amount of stuff we had on our list it felt as if we were going on a 3 month expedition to Everest. Since the cruise was departing from Majorca we had to take a flight first and Thomson has a relatively generous luggage allowance of 20kg per adult and 10kg for under 2s plus 7kg hand luggage allowance and a pram or car seat included. Also you can pool your luggage allowance as long as the weight doesn't go over 23kg per bag, which meant we had a total allowance of 90kg (and we did get quite close to this...). 
One thing that worried me to the pit of my stomach was the car seat situation. I wanted to take the car seat as an added extra to use on the coaches but after contacting Thomson we were informed that as Millie is an infant she may not actually get a seat and even if she did there was no guarantee of a seat belt and even if there was a seat belt it was likely to be a lap belt. This left me in a terrible state and it took weeks of constant reassurance from my husband and parents that it would be OK but I couldn't help but think of the worst case scenario. In the end we didn't take it and in hindsight it would have been another thing to lug around which we actually wouldn't have been able to use at all, but I'll go into this in a little more detail later.

Cabins


This is something you should consider before you book. We had read on a few forums that if you can get a room with a balcony it will help as once baby is asleep you will have somewhere to go. The TUI Discovery had plenty of balcony rooms and some larger family suites which we opted for and provided a great space for the expedition equipment that comes along with a baby on holiday. If you can't get a balcony don't worry, there were only a few nights where we headed back to the cabin at Millie's normal bedtime. We actually found that she fell asleep easily in her pushchair if we covered it up using the Mamas & Papas Sleep Shade and strolled around the various decks for a while. This was usually my husbands job and he was well known to the crew on deck 8, strolling round and round until she was asleep. One crew member even stopped him on one of the last days and said to him 'can I please look at your baby, I see you every night walking around but don't see baby because of the cover'. Falling asleep in her pushchair meant we could enjoy some of the fantastic entertainment on offer as well as a few well deserved all inclusive drinks. Forget tea, all inclusive prosecco - yes please!!!

Entertainment/Baby Facilities


This brings us nicely onto the entertainment onboard. The ships 'kids club' starts from age 3 so Millie wasn't able to use those facilities, however there was a Baby Centre which was open for parents and babies to come as they please. It had a ball pit, nursing chair, changing tables and an impressive amount of toys and games that could be 'borrowed' at anytime by simply signing them out - a great idea. There was also a steriliser which could be used if needed for bottles etc.
The Baby Centre impressed us and if I'm honest it was mainly because we expected the ship to be full of the... older generation but we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of young families with babies and toddlers, one family in particular had 2 babies under 2 with them!

Babies with nappies are not allowed in the main pool on deck unfortunately but I had an ingenious idea (which I may have stolen from somewhere online) to take a small blowup paddling pool/sun shade for Millie to play in. We first filled it with some of the pool water (my husband got some quizzical looks from people as he scooped pool water with a mug a few times) but soon discovered that it was actually quite salty and Millie seemed to have a taste for it so used tap water instead. It kept her cool and amused for a while and allowed us to take it in turns to get a bit of sun worshipping and reading done.
Towards the end of the cruise we got a little more adventurous and took Millie in the shallow end of the main pool as there were plenty of other babies/toddlers in there and she had a swim nappy on which probably meant there was less pee coming from her than a lot of the other guests on board!

At night as Millie managed to fall asleep relatively easily in her pushchair we could pretty much take her anywhere as long as there wasn't too much noise. That being said, we did go a broadway-style show one night which was incredibly loud but she didn't wake up until it had finished and was quiet! There was plenty of entertainment to chose from though, from the outdoor cinema on the top deck which provided blankets and popcorn, to quizshows, acoustic sets or shows.
One thing we did potentially miss out on was the late-night partying. For example on the first night there was a 'Sail Away' party until late on the top deck which we missed as Millie would have woken up. Whether we would've gone to it even if Millie wasn't with us I'm not so sure - sometimes having a baby as an excuse to go to bed early can be a blessing!

There were plenty of baby changing facilities on board but your cabin is always pretty close by in a worst case scenario. Millie did however decide that the cabin floor was the best place relieve herself, almost entirely missing the nappy she had on leaving a perfect little present for us to clean up. We weren't sure how many nappies to take and ended up taking far too many (well over 100) as well as a number of swim nappies, when really half that would've been enough. It was probably a good thing to have too many though as a few weeks before the trip we asked Thomson if there were any onboard to purchase which they replied 'yes in the onboard shop but we can't guarantee how many or what size' however when we looked I couldn't see any of any size in the shop.


Food/Drink


The food was probably one of the best and most surprising parts of the trip. We knew it was all included but the sheer amount of food on offer was staggering, I have no idea how they manage to cook it all. There was a large buffet style restaurant which seemed like it was constantly open and offered a variety of different food, we usually had lunch here as it was monstrously busy at breakfast (every man for themself to find a table). In the evenings we tended to go to a restaurant called 47 Degrees which was table service and you could have a classier 3 course meal.
In all of the restaurants they had the same style highchairs, a (rather cheap looking I have to say) plastic seat with a strap but no tray. Since Millie is baby led weaning, she needs a tray or it goes everywhere (it goes everywhere anyway but it just seems a little tidier with a tray) but the highchairs did push neatly under the tables in the buffet restaurant so we tended to use them there. The table service restaurant however used white tablecloths and Millie + food + white = no longer white. I'm not sure how much Vanish stain remover can be kept on a ship but I'm sure it's not enough! We used our trusty Pop 'n' Sit which amused the staff every night - 'ooh she's brought her own chair!'. There was a children's menu but we didn't look at it as Millie just had a selection of everyone else's meal and that kept her happy.

In terms of milk, Millie is bottle fed so we took 6 bottles, 4 packets of formula (2 boxes of Organic First Infant) and a whole heap of cartons. We ordered the cartons from Boots to pick up after security at the airport (mainly to cut down on luggage weight) and I think we bought around 17 which was too many. The plan was to use those for night feeds as well as during excursions in the day when we were out and about but it turns out Millie is a fussy bugger and doesn't like the cartons in the middle of the night so we ended up using formula for that. I brought a Thermos flask which keeps its temperature really well and that came in handy so I didn't have to wait for the kettle and my husband had the genius idea of keeping the champagne bucket (yes our room came with one!) in the fridge full of chilled water to cool the bottle down. To sterilise the bottles we used good old Milton tablets and a large supermarket own brand ziplock bag which fitted 2 9oz bottles and took around 15 minutes to sterilise however we could have used the steriliser in the baby centre.
One corner of our cabin became our own baby centre but could have been viewed in a passing glance as a drug den with almost white powder on the worktop with a Boots Advantage card used to level (or cut) the formula. My darling husband took it too far however when I came back from the loo and found three straight lines of powder with a rolled up €5 note next to it - #notimpressed - god knows what the housekeeping staff thought.

Now for the brief cafe review! The drinks and cake here weren't included in the all-inclusive package on the ship but they were reasonably priced. I don't have much more to say about it if I'm honest because I didn't even take Millie with me so I have no idea if they had highchairs or any baby friendly things. I think I decided to have a day off cafe reviewing and just enjoyed a coffee and some yummy cake (red velvet) with my parents whilst Millie hung out with her dad by the pool. I hope you didn't read all of the way down here for that review or you will have been bitterly disappointed!

Getting Around


One thing that played on my mind before the trip was how easy (or hard) it would be to get around on the ship. When I thought of a ship I thought of big clunky doors and lots of stairs and things to step over. I'm not sure why I thought of that because the TUI Discovery was remarkably easy to get around with plenty of lifts (8 to be exact) and not a clunky door in sight. I can't think of an occasion on the ship when we had to de-strollerise or lift it over an obstacle. The exception to this was on the day we had to take a tender (a small boat) to get to shore in which we had to descend some steps before boarding the smaller boat however the crew happily helped us with this without even asking and it was a lot easier than we imagined, Millie slept right through it!

Excursions


This was probably the most difficult aspect of the trip and can be related to most holidays with a baby. Thomson encourages their guests to book onto organised excursions and we decided to go on a few of them to see the sites which included Monaco, Pisa and Pompeii. It is essentially a half-day or a full-day off the ship and involves a coach and tour guide. The trouble we had was that not all of the tour guides were as baby friendly as some of the others and we got left behind a lot whilst we got out the stroller from under the coach etc. This wasn't a massive issue as we knew when/where to meet to go back but did mean we missed out on some of the tours.
Millie didn't get a seat and although all of the coaches we went on were modern with air con etc, some were pretty small so it could be a pain when she needed a nap. They all had seat belts but they were lap-belts and so the car seat would've been useless. We only chose trips that had journeys less than an hour to minimise any risks which meant we had to rule out some trips as well as ruling out trips that involved a lot of steps or walking (for example Mount Vesuvius).
Babies also tend to poop at inconvenient times and locations and not all of these locations were the most equipt to change a baby. Out of all of our trips there was only one place that had a baby change facility (a restaurant in Pisa) and in the rest poor Millie had to be changed on the floor. 
They were also quite long days (even the half-days) and getting Millie to sleep on the coach was tough. We found that Millie would fall asleep in her stroller when walking about but then would have to be woken to take her back onto the coach for another part of the trip when she was still tired. All of these things I wouldn't have even thought of as an issue before having a baby but a slightly disrupted nap can mean a nightmare afternoon! We made the excursions work and we still enjoyed them but it was difficult and some of the day was missed due to baby timings.

Staff


I love the crew on the TUI Discovery. There is nearly a ratio of 2 guests for every 1 crew member and every single one of them was amazing. They couldn't help us enough and were happy to chat when they could. A lot of them are on the ship for long periods, far from home and away from families so some became quite attached to Millie. One notable occasion was at the sushi restaurant where the chef took a particular shine to her and played for a good 10 minutes whilst we ate our food. The numerous cleaning crew always said hello as we passed even if we had only just seen them and created some great 'towel animals' each evening! The restaurant staff never grumbled when Millie was throwing food all over the place (we tidied up after her of course) and were all too happy to provide cold water to cool her milk or extra food especially for her. I cannot fault them and they made the cruise a fantastic experience.

Overall


We had such a good time with only minimal disruption caused by Millie. The google search of 'taking a baby on a cruise' we did before we went really rattled us but I'm so glad we could prove it wrong and I hope that it doesn't put other people off. The fact we could go to sleep and wake up in a totally different country without even breaking a sweat was so good. It means that Millie (who at the time of the cruise was 9 months old) has now been to a total of 6 countries... SIX! It took me over 10 years to get to that total!

I think a lot of the cruise lines/ships are different, for example we have seen that Disney Cruise is far more equipt to deal with babies (as you'd expect) and allows them in the pool etc etc. Whereas some other ships and cruise lines are far worse when it comes to being baby friendly so make sure you do some research into the ship itself before you choose which one but PLEASE don't let any google searches put you off baby cruising.

#babycruising should be a thing.

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