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Cruise Traveling With Kids

Apr 29, 2008
Make it a Vacation to Remember (Fondly!)

Is a cruise vacation right for your family? Chances are, the answer is yes - especially if your youngsters are the kind of kids who like to have fun!

Would your kids like to slither down a water slide, sing karaoke, or play pirate with a dozen new friends? Would they like to dissect a squid or maybe dance all night in a teen club? Well, then, welcome aboard. These are just a few of the activities that modern cruise ships offer families looking for a new way to spend their vacation.

Shipboard life: Play hard, eat well, rest easy

A cruise ship is basically a giant floating, all-inclusive resort. Rooms, meals, activities, and entertainment are all included in the cruise fare, and the itinerary is already set, so planning and budgeting are easy. And parents and kids can pursue their own interests, so everyone can have a good time. Is there any better recipe for great family cruise vacation?

Most cruise lines offer cabins that can sleep four, and most offer discounted fares for kids sharing their parents' stateroom (cribs and guardrails for bunk beds are readily available). Some ships have staterooms that sleep five or six, but if your kids are older, you might want to book adjoining cabins, which offer more space and privacy. Outside cabins are more appealing than inside cabins, especially if they have a veranda, where parents can relax during kids' naptime, but they are more expensive.

When it comes to food, cruising is hard to beat. Almost every ship has a special menu of kid-friendly dishes, but kids can also dine from the main menu just like Mom and Dad. On some lines, kids can eat at tables staffed by youth counselors, leaving parents some quiet dinners to themselves.

Kids' programs: Fun for all

Gone are the days when the ship's Children's Room was a glorified babysitting operation. Today's kids' programs are usually run from specially outfitted 'clubhouses' staffed by specially trained counselors. Think camp, not daycare.

Programming is usually available for kids 3 to 17 (some cruise lines accommodate younger children, provided they are potty-trained). The kids are divided by age-groups, and the list of things they can do is mind-boggling. Movies, games, arts and crafts, and contests are offered by nearly all cruise lines, and some also offer special programming like language classes, etiquette instruction, cake decorating, and shore excursions just for kids. Outdoor fun includes amazing pools (some come with a gigantic movie screen), as well as basketball, volleyball, and tennis. Some ships even offer miniature golf course and bowling. Babysitting is available when the children's centers are closed, and some ships issue pagers to parents so they can keep in touch with their kids when they are apart.

Two new trends are changing kids' cruising a lot. The first is 'edutainment,' a concept enthusiastically embraced by Princess Cruises, which has partnered with the California Science Center and the National Park Service for some kid-sized educational fun. For example, kids can build a model of a roller coaster, dissect a squid, or learn about glaciers and grizzlies in the Junior Ranger Program. The second trend is exclusive programming for teens, who can now hang out with new friends in large, comfortable spaces equipped with video games, computers, and air hockey tables. Some new ships even offer teens their own refreshment areas and whirlpool.

What to know before you go

Shipboard facilities and programming for children vary widely, so it's important to choose the right cruise and to let the kids know what to expect. Keep the following tips in mind.

* Know that older ships and luxury cruise lines usually have less children's programming, while newer ships and mid-price cruise lines usually have the coolest kid facilities.

* Look over the various destinations that your family would prefer, and aim for summer or school vacations, when there will be plenty of other children to play with.

* Talk to your kids about proper shipboard etiquette, and go over basic safety precautions. Establish a buddy system for older children who want some independence aboard ship, and be sure that all children know they can get help from a uniformed crew member at any time.

Family cruise vacations are easy, delicious, exciting, and fun. Best of all, you'll never hear that dreaded vacation complaint, Mommy, I'm bored!, because on a cruise ship, there's something fun to do every minute.
About the Author
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita is a weekly travel columnist for http://MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007".
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