Canberra: Fond memories of cruising as a child

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience cruising as a child. My first cruise, aged six, was on P&O’s Canberra with my parents, grandparents and uncle in 1990. In this post, I look back at my memories of this cruise and include photos and excerpts from the scrapbook I created from this holiday.

Canberra first cruise
Canberra: My first cruise

Canberra

SS Canberra was one of the first cruise ships that ignited many British cruisers’ love of cruise holidays. The ship, originally built as an ocean liner, entered service in 1961 and was used in the 1982 Falkland War as a troop ship. Canberra was part of the P&O Cruises’ fleet until 1997 when she was sent to a scrapyard in Pakistan.

The ship could accommodate 1,737 passengers and 795 crew, was 250m in length and around 45,000 gross tons.

I cruised on Canberra in 1990 and 1993 with my family. Both cruises set sail from Southampton. On my first cruise, we visited the Mediterranean and in 1993, we cruised to the Canary Islands.

Canberra Cabin

On my first cruise, I shared an inside cabin with my Mum and Dad. It was C329 with bunk beds and a shared bathroom. I vaguely remember using the bathrooms but they were conveniently located outside our cabin so it wasn’t far to go. As a child a shared bathroom didn’t seem to be an issue but I can’t imagine wanting to do that now.

canberra inside cabin
Credit: ssCanberra
canberra deck plan c
Our cabin was located on the bottom left side of this deck plan

The total price of the 14-day cruise for the three of us was £2,788.80. With inflation, this would be approximately £6,384.66 today. I’m so grateful that I was able to have this experience and illustrates quite clearly how cruises have become more affordable in recent years.

canberra cruise ticket

Canberra Embarkation

We embarked in Southampton on a round-trip Mediterranean cruise. As Canberra departed Southampton, there was a band playing on the dock and streamers, which felt like a proper send-off! I remember watching from the promenade deck with my family.

Southampton cruise terminal

Onboard Activities

As a six year old, I enjoyed swimming in the pool, joining in with the Kids’ Club and sea day activities.

I remember that the swimming pool had high sides and was very deep. If you ask children today about their favourite things to do on a cruise, swimming is still probably high on their list.

I remember having lots of fun at the Canberra kids’ club and playing on the indoor slide. On sea days, I would spend time there during the day and sometimes in the evening. I would go to the children’s dinner, which was an earlier sitting for children in the MDR. As an only child, I was quite happy to join in with activities and meet new friends.

Canberra kids club

There was plenty of things to do for children on Canberra such as discos, fancy dress, film screenings and ‘frog racing’! Frog racing involving flipping a wooden frog across a rope, it sounds a bit naff but it was good fun.

frog racing
Frog racing on Canberra
disco Canberra cruise

On my first cruise, I enjoyed a Hawaiian disco on Canberra and 25 years later I took a Hawaiian cruise on Grand Princess. There seemed to be plenty of other children onboard Canberra but nowadays I prefer to cruise outside of the school holidays due to the price. This means I never seem to see many children on a cruise anymore.

I was also really lucky to get the opportunity to visit the ship’s Bridge with the kids’ club. Find out more about taking a cruise ship Bridge tour.

canberra bridge tour
Somehow I don’t think Canberra allowed this 6 year old to ‘steer the ship’!

My First Cruise Destinations

During my first cruise we visited five countries, our ports of call were: Gibraltar, Cannes, Portofino, Tunisia, Majorca and Lisbon.

Gibraltar

In Gibraltar, we took a trip to the top of Gibraltar Rock to see the Barbary Macaques. These are wild animals and jump on tourists quite frequently, fortunately on both times I’ve visited, I’ve stayed safe. I’ve written a guide to seeing the Gibraltar monkeys safely.

Gibraltar 1990
My Mum and Dad in front of Gibraltar Rock
Parody Tours 1990
My Uncle and Gran on their Gibraltar tour bus

Interestingly, I did some research and discovered that Parody Tours still offers excursions in Gibraltar.

Cannes and Monaco

We had an eventful day when we visited Cannes. We spent the day in Monaco and when we returned to Cannes to get back on to the ship by tender, we were delayed for hours. The sea conditions made it difficult but we finally made it back to the ship, late at night. I remember walking through the galley after getting off the tender. This inspired my fancy dress outfit: ‘Flaked out in Cannes’ because we were all so tired by the time we got back onboard.

fancy dress on a cruise
My Mum collected cereal packets and cans from the buffet to make my fancy dress outfit!

In Monaco, we visited The Prince’s Palace, Casino Square and part of the Formula One circuit. We swam in the sea, which I remember being warm like bath water.

I returned to Monaco in 2018 and visited the Prince’s Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

monaco cruise harbour

Portofino

It’s funny what you remember about places as a child. On arrival to Portofino we watched a helicopter dropping water over a wild fire, I recall seeing lots of colourful houses and eating a big ice cream!

I would really like to return to Portofino someday to enjoy this exclusive Italian village as an adult. I was oblivious to the picturesque harbour and would love to sit outside, admiring the view whilst sipping an Aperol Spritz (and probably eating a big ice cream!).

Tunisia

I was feeling unwell on the day we visited Tunisia and so we only spent a short time there. We walked around a market area and it was very hot, it was a heat I’d never experienced before. I’m sure there is much more to Tunisia than pottery and mats but as a child, I summarised my visit quite succinctly!

Morocco port

Majorca

The penultimate port on my first cruise was Majorca and we had a busy day exploring the Caves of Drach and Porto Cristo. I drew a picture of the Caves of Drach for my scrapbook.

cruise scrapbook

My Mum taught me how to remember which are stalagmites and stalagtites:

“The tights come down and the mites crawl up!”

Mum, 1990

Lisbon

The final port of call for my first cruise on Canberra was Lisbon. We took an organised cruise excursion to the Palace of Sintra.

Canberra first cruise Palace of Sintra Portugal

We had a tour inside the palace, which is the best preserved medieval royal residency in Portugal. I can recall visiting the kitchens and being amazed at the huge chimneys. There were a number of indoor and outdoor fountains that I remember.

During the same excursion we made a stop at Belem Tower. It wouldn’t be for several years that I would realise that this is one of the key landmarks in Lisbon.

I returned to Lisbon on a cruise in 2018 on Sapphire Princess. We spent a relaxing day in the city enjoying the food and drink.

Cruising as a Child

Taking a cruise as a child was certainly a positive experience. It made me more open to the idea of cruising as an adult and appreciate the opportunities cruising offers. Seeing interesting places, enjoying the cruise ship activities and of course, the odd cocktail.

On Canberra, I enjoyed a mocktail called a Pussyfoot. It seems I’ve always been partial to a fruity cocktail!

pussyfoot mocktail Canberra
I took my first cruise on P&O's Canberra when I was six years old. Cruising as a child was fun. I look back at my memories of this cruise in 1990.

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