DFDS Seaways depart from North Shields daily at 5pm. This is the perfect time for a family holiday to begin as there is no rushing about, no early mornings, no keeping your children off school and no disrupting sleep in the middle of the night. In fact I didn't even pack until the morning of our holiday which for me is unheard of! We parked our car at the Port of Tyne car park at 3pm (charged at £12 per day) and headed over the check in which was well signposted.
There were no queues and all we needed to hand over was our booking invoice and passports. The check in lady was friendly, efficient and more than happy to answer my barrage of questions. We were handed our five boarding cards which also double up as a room key and pre-booked restaurant passes. Very handy! We whizzed through passport control and walked straight onto the boat where there were plenty of staff to hand our children balloons and show us to our room. From check in to cabin in 15 minutes was pretty impressive and completely stress free! I always feel anxious waiting around at airports and boarding a plane with three crazy children - I felt none of this anxiety today and you feel as if you are 'on holiday' as soon as you step on board.
I have been put off booking a DFDS Seaways mini cruise in the past as they used to only offer 4 berth cabins. I was therefore delighted to learn that they now offer 5 berth cabins - perfect for larger families like us. I really did not expect more than just a cupboard to rest our heads but was surprised at how much thought had gone into the design and how convenient the cabins were.
There were triple bunks on one side of our room and a single bed on the other side with a fold down bunk above it. This was ideal as it allowed us to use the single bed as a sofa when the beds weren't in use. All beds were made up on arrival and were nice and comfy. We all had our own reading light and our room also featured a chair, small side table, two continental plugs (remember your adapters), a full length mirror, coat hooks and hangers and enough space to lie a full sized suitcase flat without us tripping over it. We had a lovely sea view and our cabin even had it's own radio!
Our cabin was en-suite with a toilet and shower/wet room and enough space for three children to brush their teeth together in the evening. Towels are included but do remember your own toiletries.
Overall I could not have been more impressed with our cabin - it exceeded my expectations and was more than adequate for our needs. You really aren't in your room much - it is just a place to rest your head.
We left our bags in our cabin and headed straight up to deck as the ship left North Shields.
We were lucky to be sailing on a bright, sunny day. There are outside decks from levels 6-10 and only one of these allows smoking which is re-assuring for us non-smoking parents! Our favourite outdoor area was level 10 which is home to the Sky Bar - an open air bar and viewing area with stunning panoramic views. Leaving the mouth of the Tyne aboard Princess Seaways was very exciting - we sailed past North Shields fish Quay and their fishing boats, waved to children on the pier and finally past Tynemouth and the Priory before heading out to sea.
As you can see the outdoor decks are very safe with the barriers up to our almost nine year old's chin. It never once crossed our mind that they were at danger of falling over board.
Once we were out to sea our children started asking if we could find the on board kids club. We reluctantly agreed but both decided if we were child free we could have stayed in the lovely sky bar for a good few hours enjoying the view and a few drinks!
We quickly found kids club in a bright corner of the ship - there was a 'tv den' showing cartoons, a baby soft play, a drawing competition and Pirate Jack was leading a craft activity. Our children weren't interested in this though and had their eyes firmly set on the ball pool! We ordered ourself a drink at the adjoining bar/cafe and watched as they jumped in.
Now I don't know about anyone else but when my three spend any length of time in a soft play they soon tend to get a little bit on the hyperactive side! After 30 minutes I had had enough of their crazy antics and we decided to explore the ship a little more. We found an on-board cinema which was showing the new Spongebob film at 7pm (tickets were 7.5 euros). If we hadn't have already made dinner reservations, this would have definitely been an option for us. There are two cinema's on board Princess Seaways and they both show three films at various times.
We stumbled upon a lovely bar known as the Columbus lounge. Our children quickly set up camp by a window with their sticker books and we relaxed into our seats and ordered a cocktail. The bar was nice and relaxed with background music (live music is played in the evening) and large windows providing sea views. The staff were highly professional and offered to bring our drinks to our table for us saving us from waiting at the bar.
I assumed that the drinks on board would be hugely overpriced however this isn't the case. Drinks were in fact cheaper than a bar on Newcastle Quayside. A pint of beer was 4.5 euros (£3.25), cocktails were from 6.95 euros (£5) and a bottle of prosecco set us back 22 euros in the steakhouse (which is just short of £16).
A visit to the gift shop
Our children had changed some of their pocket money into euros and it was burning a hole in their pocket so off we went again to find the on board gift shop. There was a nice selection of gifts to choose from including clothing, sunglasses, chocolates, alcohol, perfume and make up. Our children only had eyes for the toy section though!
Harry picked up an angry birds stationery set for 3.5 euros (£2.50) and Heidi and Jack picked a small soft toy each for 5 euros (£3.60). Considering this is the only shop on board I didn't find the prices to be extravagant at all! A special mention does need to go to the shop assistants who were very patient with our children as they each paid for their own shopping by themselves (super cute to watch).
The Explorer's Steakhouse
Time flies when you're having fun and it was time for our steakhouse reservation at 7:15pm (8:15pm on board time). We had pre-booked and paid for a meal for the 5 of us online prior to our trip. The price was £89 excluding alcoholic drinks which I'm pretty sure tops the list of our most expensive family meal ever. It was a steakhouse though and it was a treat. There are more budget-friendly dining options on board too.
I priced our same meal at a well known steakhouse in Newcastle and the bill would have been £88 so although expensive, I am confident it was not over-priced.
Our children dined from the Little Pirates menu which included a free board game which kept them entertained throughout. I did have a slight niggle with the children's menu as it didn't offer a vegetarian option as standard which I found was a little strange and when I asked if Heidi could order pasta with plain tomato sauce instead of bolognese sauce I was told no. Hmmm! In the end she ordered a burger and just ate the bun and chips!
The steakhouse had a very elegant feel to it and the service we received was fantastic - we were provided with our own personal waiter all evening who went out of his way to ensure we were well looked after.
Our children's desserts were definitely the star of their meal and we would recommend ordering a main and a dessert rather than a starter and main.
I was extremely impressed with the quality of our food in the Explorer's Steakhouse. The steak onboard is flown in from the USA without being frozen and is of the highest possible grading and you can really taste the difference. We went for beef carpaccio and BBQ ribs to start followed by Rose veal and a rib eye steak (both medium). Our food was perfect and we couldn't have chosen a nicer meal.
At the end of our meal we simply handed over our boarding card to our waiter who deducted the pre-paid amount from our bill - we ended up only having to pay for our bottle of prosecco.
By the time we'd finished our meal it was 9:30pm. We could have headed to the children's disco or the live music lounge but decided to head back to our cabin for an early night as we had a busy day planned visiting the zoo the next day. Before heading to our room we popped outside on deck to take a look at the dark night sky and stars together which was just magical.
Back in our room we all climbed into our allocated bunks and spent some time chatting and deciding which animals we were most looking forward to seeing at the zoo tomorrow (butterflies, gorillas, lions and giraffes) before reading our books in bed and then drifting off to sleep. We were blessed with a very smooth crossing and all slept very well. I closed my eyes thinking how lucky we were to have spent such a lovely afternoon and evening together as a family and that as a mum, this had definitely been the most hassle and stress free mini break I had ever planned.
You can read about day two of our trip featuring Amsterdam zoo and our experience of buffet dining onboard here - Amsterdam Zoo.
We will be publishing day three in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for future posts! In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about DFDS Seaways mini cruises, visit their website for further details and to book.