Why a cruise could be the ultimate multi-gen holiday

·7-min read
Forrest, Eve, Heidi and Becky in Bergen
Forrest, Eve, Heidi and Becky in Bergen

In the film business, they say: “Never work with children or animals.” In the holiday business, I suspect it’s “Don’t go on a cruise with three generations of your family” – because really, how could that ever be anything but a recipe for disaster? I recently had cause to give this considerable thought, as I embarked on my first cruise last month. Not content with simply testing this theory, I had decided to push it to its outer limits – bringing not just my mother Eve, but also my younger sister Heidi, and my 17-year-old son Forrest.

In the comfort of my living room, it had all seemed like such a good idea – spending quality time with my mum and sister, and going on holiday with Forrest while I still could, before he disappears to festivals and parties and isn’t so keen on the idea of hanging out with so much of his family in one go. But, as we tottered up the gangplank, all of a sudden it felt unnervingly real, and just a little bit ambitious.

We were heading off to the Norwegian fjords on Ambience, Ambassador Cruise Line’s first ship – which, despite carrying 1,400 passengers and 600 staff, is still (remarkably) small enough to make it up the fjords. The line itself is brand new, having launched in March this year – the first new British line for more than a decade – and this was only the second iteration of its much-anticipated “multi-generational cruise” concept. I quietly hoped it had mastered the art on the first one.

Ambience, Ambassador Cruise Line - Ambassador Cruise Line
Ambience, Ambassador Cruise Line - Ambassador Cruise Line

Setting sail

When the fateful day arrived, we hopped on a coach, which whisked us to Tilbury Docks, then queued to board, trying to sneak a subtle look at our fellow guests, Forrest craning his neck in search of other teenagers.

Everything was seamlessly organised, and less than three hours after leaving the house, we were happily sipping our inaugural pre-dinner aperitif at the rather spectacular Observatory Bar (which, as the name suggests, has fantastic views out to sea). Forrest had disappeared to go and explore, while we weighed up the dinner options, which included Borough Market, with its buffet-style food stations, and the main restaurant, Buckingham.

There were different options each night, ranging from traditional (pork medallions, beef Wellington and roast lamb), to modern (salmon nigiri), with retro desserts like banana split and baked Alaska. It was all excellent. Forrest tried a salmon and cream pasta dish, which he declared “exquisite” (high praise) – so good, in fact, that when I offered to try to make it at home, he advised me not to bother.

My son and I also shared a cabin, and it was much more spacious than I had expected, with ample storage – which I insisted from the off that we use (I have seen the state of his bedroom). The beds were incredibly comfortable and I slept better during our week at sea than I have in years.

A cabin on an Ambassador Cruise Line - Ambassador Cruise Line
A cabin on an Ambassador Cruise Line - Ambassador Cruise Line

The itinerary, too, was excellent. Bergen – our first stop – was delightful, and though we had signed up for excursions each day of the trip, there we were content to amble around and explore under our own steam, stuffing ourselves with cinnamon rolls and riding up in the funicular to enjoy the views. Then it was on to Flam, a beautiful little village on the Aurlandsfjord with only 400 permanent residents, all verdant grass and colourful wooden houses, almost like a life-size model village.

Our third and fourth stops were Haugesund and Eidfjord, including the tiny hamlet of Skudeneshavn on Karmoy Island, where the charming clapboard houses made it feel like we were on a film set. In Eidfjord, we went to the Hardanger Juice and Cider factory and tasted 8 per cent cider at nine in the morning, with Forrest proclaiming he wasn’t going to drink as someone needed to stay sober. There was a 94-year-old in our group who finished every glass, so perhaps he had a point.

Another day, we visited Skjervefossen waterfall – and what a privilege to be able to walk right up to such an impressive natural phenomenon, albeit coated in the fine spray that filled the air for what seemed like miles around. We were glad of our anoraks (as a wise Norwegian tour guide put it, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes) and of justifying the space they had occupied in our luggage, assuming that drizzle was the best we could hope for, but finding that every day brought glorious sunshine. All the better for smooth sailing and splendid views.

The secret to success

We realised early on that the key to a successful multi-gen holiday is, in fact, not to force the quality-time aspect and instead to spend at least some of our time apart. We enjoyed meals and excursions together, but otherwise pottered about the ship solo or in pairs with our books and laptops, soaking up the delicious peace and quiet. Mum and I both took advantage of the spa and enjoyed lovely massages, while Forrest enthusiastically reported spending countless hours “gazing out across the North Sea in an enigmatically brooding state of being, sipping away at my fifth Diet Coke of the afternoon”.

Heidi Riley, Becky Riley, cruise ship Norway
Heidi Riley, Becky Riley, cruise ship Norway

Evenings were spent together, taking advantage of the ship’s myriad entertainment options – karaoke one night, an orchestral performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons another (Heidi and I managed a dance one night while Mum looked on, Baileys in hand, in amusement – and beside her, Forrest, in abject horror).

Our favourite evening was a surprise to us all, however, when – under not inconsiderable sufferance – Forrest agreed to come along to watch Martin Daniels (son of Paul) perform his comedy and illusion act in the ship’s theatre, the Palladium. We all enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I have ever seen my son laugh so hard.

As the week went on, the realisation slowly crept up on us that we all rather liked cruising. What a wonderful way to experience a country in bite-size pieces and to appreciate fully Norway’s majestic scenery – and all without needing to worry about anything.

The crew were excellent (particularly our amazing steward, Cokries, who I never once saw without a smile on his face), and there was always something to keep everyone happy – whether on the entertainment programme, the excursion itineraries, or that night’s menu. There were around 150 children on our sailing, and though Forrest was at the older end of the scale, there were plenty of workshops and events geared towards younger passengers, too. By the end of the week, we were planning our next cruise.

The journey home

On our final day, we forged back across the North Sea in marvellous sunshine. Out on deck, we found a sofa in the shade for Mum, while Heidi and I read, sunbathed and made regular trips to the bar – a blissful way to end our week. Forrest even deigned to join us for a while.

Keen to tick off all the requisite elements of cruising, we even managed a quick game of bingo, and though we didn’t take any winnings (one away from a full house!), we certainly hit the jackpot where the cruise was concerned.

As the captain said earlier in the week, “I wish you drink in your glass, food on your table and wind in your sails” – a great ethos for a cruise, and an even better one for life.

How to do it: Ambassador (0808 102 0129; ambassadorcruiseline.com) offers two multi-generational cruises each year, the Summertime Fjordland (departs August 5 2023) and the British Isles & Ireland (departs August 12 2023). Priced from £739 per adult and £99 per child based on two sharing

Covid rules

For full details of entry requirements and Covid rules for your favourite destinations, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-travelrules. Refer to your cruise line for further travel information

Would you take a multi-generational cruise with your family? Please join the conversation in the comments below