As you search for your ideal summer (or winter) vacation, what comes to mind? If you’re traveling with children, chances are that their needs figure prominently into your planning. Most families look for a place where everyone, regardless of age, can have fun and enjoy each other’s company. They search for a destination that will entertain all their children, even if their ages are remarkably different. And along the way, if there’s something cool for Mom and Dad to do, that’s an added bonus!
It’s not always easy to please everyone. Cruising, however, can do just that. A vacation on a cruise liner – if you’re careful about making your selection – has something for just about every member of the family.
Advantages of Choosing A Cruise Vacation
A cruise ship is like a floating all-inclusive resort. For one price, you can enjoy just about everything available on the ship, with the exception of shore excursions, gratuities, and some beverages. Nearly everything is paid for up-front, so surprising new charges rarely spring up. That means there’s no need to carry lots of extra cash with you. All three meals (plus numerous snacks like the midnight buffet!) are included as are shows and other activities. Even if you opted not to participate in any of the shore excursions, there’d be plenty to keep everyone busy.
The other distinct advantage of cruising with a family is that, if desired, your kids will be entertained by trained staff while you’re off enjoying adult-oriented pursuits. Not everyone chooses to leave their children at a kid’s program, but for those who do, you’ll quickly find that it’s a wonderful option. But you’re not the only one who will enjoy the fact that your kids can participate in their own activities. Most children love the kids’ programs and will be up early each morning, anxious to start the day with their new-found friends.
Cruise lines have several children’s programs geared towards various age groups. The youngest usually starts at 3 years old (or possibly younger if the child is potty-trained). In fact, most ships have at least 3 categories: 3-7 year olds, 8 – 12 year olds, and teenagers up to age 17. Age appropriate activities for each group are organized by staff members who have experience with children or teens and actually enjoy being with your kids. Teens, of course, are given a bit more freedom while little ones enjoy very structured activities.
You can also be sure that your kids are safe while onboard a cruise ship. Most ships provide beepers or phones for parents of kids 3 – 5 years old so that they can be easily reached if they’re needed. Older kids must be signed in and out and will never be released to anyone other than you, unless you grant permission.
On cruise lines like Disney, many activities are appropriate for the whole family, so there are plenty of events that can be enjoyed together, both on board and at various ports of call.
Choosing the Right Cruise Line for your Family
Every family unit is different. Some have lots of younger children, others have teens, while yet others have a combination of both. The key is to choose a cruise line that has something for each age group.
In addition, you’ll also want a cruise line that heartily welcomes children. No cruise lines turn kids away, but some are certainly more appropriate than others. It’s best to avoid the luxury lines, such as Radisson Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises, Cunard, and Seabourn. They’ll be nice to your kids, but won’t feature a lot of activities for them to enjoy.
- Disney Cruise Lines – Mention family cruising and this is the first cruise line that comes to mind. Of course, Disney’s customer service is top-notch and their popularity with children of all ages is unsurpassed. Disney has 3 standard levels of kids’ programs: The Oceaneer Club (3-7), Oceaneer Lab (8-12), and the Teen Club (13-17), which has its own private space on the ship where teens can hang out together and enjoy video games, surfing the Internet, movies, dancing, and more. Another nice thing about Disney, however, is that they also pamper the adults! Parents can take advantage of a first-class spa and fitness center, check out the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool, or just lounge on the deck while the kids are entertained.
- Carnival Cruise Lines – Carnival Cruises, known for their “Fun Ships,” certainly provide lots of entertainment for kids. Carnival cruises tend to be fast-paced and quite energetic, so if you’re looking for something a bit more tranquil, this is not for you. Kids, however, will have a blast aboard a Carnival excursion. This cruise company has 5 levels of kids’ programs, known as Camp Carnival. Ages are arranged as follows: 2 -5 years old, 6-8 years old, 9-11 years old, 12-14 years old, and 15-17. The staff is creative and energetic and while the kids are playing, parents can enjoy the casino, spa, or a host of other on-board adult-oriented activities. Again, like Disney, there are also plenty of activities appropriate for families to enjoy together.
- Royal Caribbean Cruises – Royal Caribbean has indeed gone above and beyond the call of duty in entertaining your children, with programs for children as young as 6 months old. The Aqua Babies (6 to 18 months) and Aqua Tots (18 to 36 months) programs feature activities designed by the childhood experts at Fisher-Price. (Not all the ships have these programs – but many do – and at least one parent must attend.) Other programs include Aquanauts (3-5), Explorers (6-8), Voyagers (9-11), and Navigators (12-14). Older teens are given a bit more freedom, though there are – on most ships – a room or two set aside specifically for the 15-17 year old set. The whole family will enjoy the sports deck (with a rock climbing wall on some ships), family-friendly shows (including ice skating shows on particular sailings), and cool shore excursions perfect for all ages.
- Costa Cruises – If you and your kids want to have a more international experience, book a cruise with this European arm of Carnival. Costa Cruises boasts a number of interesting activities for kids that you probably won’t find elsewhere, including Italian language and cooking classes. Kids’ program levels include Minis (3-6), Maxis (7-11), Teen Junior (12-14), and Teen (15-17). Just-for-kids themed dinners are popular on Costa as well. Family activities include talent shows, karaoke (your chance to embarrass your kids!), and bingo. Costa Cruises travel to the eastern and western Caribbean as well as several European destinations.