Actress Katherine Kelly admits she was in two minds about taking her family on a cruise holiday. "I don't really do 'holidays' as such," she tells HELLO! Online. "With family and friends scattered across the world, we usually spend our free time visiting them instead." But after taking to the stage in the highly-acclaimed City of Angels at London's Donmar Warehouse – "My first job as a working mum" – the former Coronation Street star decided that she and husband Ryan needed a proper holiday ahead of the start of filming for the next series of Mr Selfridge in April when she returns to take up the character of Lady Mae, starring alongside Jeremy Piven.
"Ryan and I had been tag-teaming our baby daughter Orla since December - as soon as he got home from work I'd pass her over and I'd hot foot it to the theatre. So it felt as though we hadn't really seen each other for a few months!".
Katherine's parents had been helping out too, looking after Orla half of the working week while she went back to work after maternity leave.
"Unbelievably selfless of them so we wanted to thank them for that. So this trip was our gift. And they do love a cruise! My mum's been telling me I'd love one for years!" Katherine kept a diary of her first cruise – and it's clear it won't be her last:
Tuesday – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We arrive at Fort Lauderdale in the state of Florida in plenty of time. The Royal Princess sets sail at 4pm and for once the Kelly family aren't fashionably late! The Royal Princess looks like a floating city, dwarfing every other cruise ship I can see in port. But we are a hard family to please. Ryan loves to explore and can't really sit still for long. My Dad loves history, so loves to visit new places, but also likes time to read, or chat to new people. My mum loves entertainment, shows, live music and to sip a dry white wine, I love to sunbathe and relax, read or head to the spa and now of course, we have a very energetic, easily bored one-year-old as part of the pack. Ryan is a foodie, dad is particular about his beer and Mum and I are just delighted that we have 10 days in which we don't have to think about supermarket shopping or go anywhere near a kitchen. ...are we hedging our bets that this holiday will suit us all?
The car arrives at the port and the bags are immediately taken by a porter directly to our rooms. We check in with the staff at Princess Cruises where we are allocated our 'cruise card'. This card lets you get on and off the ship when we arrive at the various destinations along the way and works as your 'credit card' so you don't have to carry cash around for any extras you want to purchase.
We head to Horizon Court for something to eat. This is the casual dining option and it's open all day long. There really is something for everyone. And a high chair for the bub! We head to our stateroom to unpack. It's bigger than I expected with a lounge area and plenty of room for the travel cot they provide.
We're all a bit tired after travelling, especially Orla. So Mum offers to babysit and wants to watch a film in the room, Dad heads to the 'British pub' for a pint and Ryan and I can't resist spending an hour in the casino. We got married in Vegas and learnt to 'roll the dice' there. It's so much fun. (We trippled our money - great start to the holiday!)
Wednesday – Day at Sea
Today was supposed to be a day in port, visiting Princess Cays (Princess Cruises' private resort in the Bahamas). But due to the stormy weather that is due to hit later today, we can't dock. Apparently this is not unusual on a cruise and the captain has decided to head to our next destination and keep ahead of the bad weather. Sounds good to us - at the moment it's glorious outside and we want to take Orla to the pool. She loves water and we can't wait to see her splashing around in her little Floatie. So after a massive breakfast, with every breakfast item you could possibly think of to choose from, we find ourselves a couple of deck chairs, order some coffees and hang out with Orla by the poolside for the morning, We meet up with my folks at lunchtime. They take Orla for the afternoon so Ryan and I take the opportunity to head to The Sanctuary - something I've been really looking forward to.
The Sanctuary is a private, adults-only retreat for you to soak up the sun or sit under an elegant cabana and enjoy the sea air and the peace and quiet. It’s table service and it has the feel of a health resort. Because it's so exclusive, it's quite in demand so you have to book as soon as you get on the ship. But I really recommend it. It was such a blissful afternoon. I actually started to read my book, I haven't read a book in six months! I had to blow the dust from my kindle! That evening we decide to head to the Atrium to listen to the live music and have a few cocktails while my dad took Orla for a little boogie on the dance floor!
Thursday – Day at Sea
After breakfast, Ryan and I decide to take Orla to the Princess Pelicans, the children's play centre. My Mum took her there for the afternoon yesterday, while we were at the Sanctuary I've been raving about it. So we went to see Orla in action and let her burn some energy off. It's as great as my mum promised. Two soft play areas, a jungle gym, little tables for arts and crafts, an outdoor area, so many toys and books. She wriggles in my arms with excitement as soon as we get through the door. I didn't think we'd be able to make use of the children's centre, as you can only leave your children for session once they are three years old. But we got a letter from the Princess Pelicans the day we arrived to say that Orla was more than welcome to spend as much time there as she wanted as long as we stayed with her, so it was basically like taking her to playgroup! We easily spend a few hours there and then head for an early lunch as Orla is absolutely famished!
This is our official day at sea. When we booked the cruise, you have a chance to book excursions and spa treatments ahead of time. So I booked a pedicure and a couple’s massage for that afternoon in the spa. It was heaven. I dropped to sleep during the massage AND upright in the pedicure chair!
My Mum managed to get Orla to have an afternoon nap. It must be the sea air! So she's wide awake by her usual bedtime at 7pm. We decide to take her to see the show in the main theatre. There are three performances an evening so you can make it fit around your evening dinner plans. The show was great fun, loads of big dance numbers and colourful costumes. Orla's face was a picture!
Friday – St Thomas
After a quick breakfast, we all get packed up to explore St Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands. We decided not to book any excursions and just get off the ship and do our own thing. It's a beautiful island, steeped in history. We take a taxi ride along the coast and we watch a seaplane land in the harbour.... We arrive downtown and walk along the quaint cobbled street surrounded by stunning old buildings. We hit the shops (apparently it's the place to go for high -end jewellery and watches) and then we see a little cafe that gets our attention. It's called Gladys (the name my Dad used to call all my mates as he could never remember their real names!). We have a drink and get a bite to eat while Orla makes the most of the air-conditioning and drops to sleep.
We have dinner in Horizon Court and Ryan and I head back to the room with Orla and watch a film. Due to working evenings in the theatre, it's something we haven't done for months and months.
Saturday – Dominica
We can't wait to see this Island, nicknamed "the Nature Isle of the Caribbean". There is still volcanic activity and the world’s second largest hot spring. Again, we decide not to book a tour but get on a mini bus with some fellow passengers and have our own private tour by one of the locals. It doesn't disappoint. Lush rain forests, stunning waterfalls and rare plants and animals. Completely different to St Thomas and we only felt like we scraped the volcanic surface!
That night, we promised ourselves that we'd change it up and go for dinner in one of the speciality restaurants, but Orla loves Horizon Court. There is such a massive selection so she can try lots of new foods and the staff have really taken a shine to her, so dinner time is loads of fun. We end up going back there instead. My parents want a 'night in' so they babysit and Ryan and I head to Bellini's cocktail bar for a drink (or two).
Sunday – Grenada
When we wake up, the ship is already docked in Grenada. But Orla has been up in the night, (plus we might have had one too many cocktails!) so we are exhausted. The old me would have pushed though the tiredness and got off the ship as I was longing to see Grenada. But we're here primarily to reboot. So we take it easy on the ship that morning. Sadly we leave Grenada at 1:30pm, so by the time we get organised, we'd set sail again.
So it's an afternoon at the pool for us. They are showing Stevie Wonder in concert on the big outdoor screen, the sun is shining and Orla is loving the attention she's getting in the pool.
That evening Mum & I order room service and put Princess Live! on the TV. Such a great idea. It's a TV studio on the ship! So we can see the performers without leaving our room.
Monday – Bonaire
Together with Aruba and Curaçao, forms the group known as the ABC islands.In the excursions guide there is a whole bunch of diving trips. Apparently it is 'the' place to dive in the Caribbean. Ryan and I are very tempted by a diving excursion. But we really want to take Orla to the beach for the first time, so we all disembark and catch a water taxi to the beach that the staff on the ship recommended.
This was probably my favourite day. On the beach you can see people kite surfing, windsurfing, sailing....and we managed to hire some snorkeling gear and snorkel along the shore line. I've never seen such beautiful fish. Especially so close to the shore, it was breathtaking. And then to watch Orla discover sand and the ocean....I'll never forget that day.
That night we take Orla to see the theatre again. Tonight it's a magician so she's not as excited as she was last time. We've prepared for this and found seats at the end of the row so we could nip out without disturbing anyone if need be. We head to the deck to let her do her new favourite thing, crawl along the SeaWalk – a top-deck glass-bottomed enclosed walkway on the ship’s starboard side. You can see the sea 128 feet below. She loves to race along it, the dare-devil!
Tuesday – Aruba
Our last day in port and we want to make the most of it. Aruba is renowned for its beaches and it doesn't disappoint. It's picture perfect. Caribbean bliss. It has quite a commercial feel to it, with plenty of high rise hotels and we spot a few chain fast food restaurants along the way. Although we only spent a day there, so I'm sure there are parts of the Island that are less touristy. Palm Beach was still very relaxed and family orientated. Plenty of deck-chairs for everyone!
That evening we head to the atrium after dinner to listen to the live music and let Orla burn off the last of her energy. Ryan and I head back to the room and Mum and Dad go to play bingo!
(There are baby sitters available by the way. But the room was so lovely just to chill in, we didn't end up needing one).
Wednesday – Day at Sea
The holiday is coming to an end and all of us want to spend some time in the Sanctuary, but kids aren't allowed. So we do a half day swap! I take Orla swimming in the morning and Ryan hits the running track and the gym while my folks chill out at the Sanctuary and then we swap in the afternoon.
That evening we do some duty free shopping and watch the water show on deck.
Thursday – Day at Sea
Our last chance to do our favourite things! Back to the spa for me! I can't wait. I think I'm getting a bit addicted to hot stone massages. I also do some laundry in the laundromat. Yes, very dull I know, but other mums reading this will understand the joy I felt when we got home and I didn't have a ton of washing to get through!
That evening, we finally get round to doing my favourite thing, watching a film under the stars. The deckchairs now have padded covers on them for 'Movies under the Stars' and blankets at your disposal (not that we need them, it's so warm under the night sky)
Friday – Fort Lauderdale
We arrive back in Fort Lauderdale and can't believe where the 10 days have gone. Ryan wishes we'd booked a two-week cruise! As you can probably tell, we are cruise converts! The thing that surprised me the most was how much there is to do. My travel diary is obviously from the perspective of travelling with a small baby. But I can guarantee you could read another five diaries from people on our exact same cruise and they would be totally different, you'd never believe we'd all been on the same ship. I can't recommend it enough. There was certainly something for all of us!
Caribbean cruise fact box - 10 day roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the Royal Princess
Dates: 10-20 November, 2015. Itinerary: Sailing roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, ports of call include Princess Cays (Princess Cruises' private resort in the Bahamas), St. Thomas, Dominica, Grenada, Caribbean Netherlands and Aruba. Prices from £680 per person (based on two adults sharing an inside stateroom). Fare includes accommodation, all main meals and on board entertainment. Flights available from £800 per person (based on return flights from London Heathrow). All offers are subject to availability. Prices correct at time of issue
For more information or to book visit princess.com/takemethere or call 0843 374 2404