January 15, 2015
AquaDuck Water Coaster on the Disney Dream
For family vacations or family reunions, or just to get away, cruising is increasingly popular for all generations. Whether you choose the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far-flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands and even the Arctic, you’ll find all-inclusive deals and the advantage of packing and unpacking just once.
Welcome to our Taking the Kids Cruise Guide for 2015, researched and updated by our intern Stacy Shepherd and out partners at the Family Travel Forum.
Cruise Lines International Association reports that some 1.5 million kids now are cruising every year—more than 1,000 on some sailings. And cruise lines have never done more for them, from featuring hip teen and tween hang-outs with the latest music and video games, to centers for the littlest cruisers (that are better equipped than many preschools) and even nurseries at sea.
Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck—activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, at considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe. Kids—especially tweens and teens— give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they have onboard and the chance to make new friends. Kids and parents alike love the major lines’ private Caribbean islands, too.
Family cruises are also a good bet weather-wise. For example, the hotel metasearch engine, Trivago.com, analyzed its top 10 searched-for hotel destinations for spring travel, and found New York (2), Orlando (4), Miami (5) and Fort Lauderdale (8) in that group – all major cruise ports. We’re glad to see so many travelers booking hotel rooms on the night prior to a cruise departure. Picking out the right bathing suit should be enough stress in planning a cruise vacation, not worrying about late flights.
While the Caribbean remains the most popular cruise destination for Americans (perhaps because most itineraries head east), adventure-lovers should keep Pacific routes in mind. From the west coast, major lines are making calls at ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, famous from “The Loveboat” TV series. In this popular fishing village turned foodie/nightlife lover’s paradise, families can disembark and tour the charming port town, stroll the seafront Malecon, shop, visit art galleries and eat any type of cuisine. But to really see the region, sign up for a cultural excursion, a private beach day at las Caletas which has its own kid-size zipline, or a try dolphin encounter with a local tour operator.
Another cruise plus: there are at least a dozen U.S. “home ports,” from New York to California, eliminating the need for many families to fly to the port of embarkation. Remember how easy it is to extend the land portion of your cruise for a cultural add-on to your vacation; and you can save even more with a CityPASS discount attractions pass valid in a dozen major cities.
Remember before booking any cruise — or travel for that matter — to consider whether you need travel insurance. Cruise insurance plans like this one from Allianz covers emergencies that could cause you to cancel your trip.
Kids with special needs and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming. Another plus: there have never been more ports, from New York to California, eliminating the need for many families to fly. And you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites. Visit the Cruise Lines International Association website for a list of ports. Find online cruise guides complete with deals and specials.
And if you don’t want to go on a large ship, charter your own boat (with a crew or without) as we have done several times in Tahiti and the Caribbean.
I’ve cruised with my family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. I’ve written The Kid’s Guide: Cruising Alaska. I’ve found along the way that the key is to choose the right cruise for your family and age kids. Here are some great options to consider:
AdventureSmith partners with small capacity, specialty-oriented ships to sail around the world to domestic North American regions like Alaska, British Columbia, and Oregon & Washington’s Columbia River and such far-flung locales as Baja, Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Peru, the Arctic, Antarctica and Australia. They can steer you to special family sailings and deals.
Company founder Todd Smith helped pioneer the concept of wilderness cruising that combines the comforts of a small cruise ship with the adventure of sea kayaking, hiking and exploring remote wilderness areas seldom associated with more mainstream cruise itineraries. The company also has launched a carbon-free cruising initiative and includes family programs as well as substantial savings. Look for deals like $100 off per person on select land and sea trips, early booking Galapagos, and special youth rates.
What’s New: AdventureSmith has launched new adventure cruises for 2015 including a 7-day excursion to Bali featuring coral reef snorkeling, visits to coastal villages, and more. You can also choose from new itineraries like Alaska’s Golden History, trips to historic Croatia and Montenegro, or an Anakonda Amazon Cruise.
The 24 ships in the Carnival family cruises fleet expect to carry more than 700,000 children in 2015, the most in company history. Dining options got a reboot with the launch of American Table menus and serving styles inspired by guest feedback. Fun Ships also offer family favorites like 24-hour pizza, poolside restaurants, Guy’s Burger Joint (created by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri), and a new confections and gift shop called Cherry on Top.
What’s New: Carnival’s Fun Ships (many with Fun Ship 2.0 entertainment and dining upgrades) continue to be top choices for families with kids of all ages. The recently renovated Carnival Sunshine features the fleet’s longest water slide (334 feet!) and open-air recreation areas. The fun Seuss at Sea program aboard Carnival Splendor (and expanding throughout the fleet by year’s end) means immersive new dining and entertainment experiences including a special “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfast with beloved Dr. Seuss characters, themed activities, Seuss movie screenings, and more. On a bigger scale, the line, just one part of the Carnival Company, is participating in a new marketing venture called WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com. Also new for 2015 are 11 longer voyages – 10 to 11 days — visiting lesser known tropical destinations such as Bonaire, Martinique, Dominica, Grenada and Tobago. Many can be combined into a three-week itinerary at bargain prices.
For Kids: Carnival Cruise Lines offers complimentary programming and facilities for kids in three age groups – Camp Carnival (2-11), Circle “C” (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17). Camp Carnival is designed for younger cruisers and features indoor play areas stocked with games and toys along with indoor climbing mazes, computer labs and video walls. Kids can also eat with their counselors so parents can enjoy a night to themselves.
For Tweens: Circle “C” provides 12 to 14-year olds with a place of their own to dance, watch movies outdoors, play games and get together with new friends.
For Teens: Club O2 includes a dance floor with a DJ, soda bar, movies, video games, and pool parties.
Around the Ship: Outdoor games and activities, along with children’s wading pools, and main Lido deck pools offering the line’s signature water slides. Outdoor play areas with mini basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, mini golf, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games, are available fleet-wide. The line also offers nightly babysitting and Carnival Night Owls featuring a full schedule of late-night activities running as late as 3AM (fees apply for babysitting and the Night Owls program).
These 11 ships are known for their sophisticated cuisine, upscale ambience, destination-focused itineraries and themed cruises focusing on art, food and wine. Still, families cruise Celebrity because it’s more low-key than its sister Royal Caribbean ships, and the line offers popular kids’ programming.
What’s New: Celebrity has introduced a new (and free!) program called iTake where aspiring young directors learn to shoot and edit video using the latest technology. iTake is available on all ships with a Celebrity iLounge.
For Kids: Celebrity Fun Factory programs are available for kids ages 3-11 from 9AM-10PM every day. The programs feature crafts, treasure hunts, theme parties, the latest gaming and more. Thanks to a partnership with LeapFrog Schoolhouse, there is special LeapFrog Edutainment designed exclusively for Celebrity Cruises that allow kids to virtually explore the ports they’re visiting. There are late-evening activities ($6/hour per child), and kids can eat with counselors at least once during a cruise.
Ships are outfitted with Xbox stations for players of all ages. Free play time is also available during certain times for Xbox 360 and Kinect for Xbox 360.
For Teens: Cruisers ages 12-17 have their own X-Club with gaming consoles, late-night dance parties, and sports. There’s also a special YSpa program for teens featuring massages, spray tans, styling sessions and more.
Around the Ship: Kid’s pools and slides, as well as basketball courts, are available almost fleet-wide. In-room sitting is $19 per hour for up to three children. On shore days, some programming is available for an extra fee.
Europe’s top cruise line will give your family a chance to get to know European families and offers a youth program fleet-wide. There are reduced Costa family rates for kids under 17 sharing a cabin with parents and periodic “Kids Sail Free” deals in off peak seasons.
What’s New: Costa Cruises introduced Costa Diadema in October. This 4,947-passenger ship boasts new entertainment and wine-tasting venues among other luxuries including an expansive open-air promenade and spa. Look for new neoCollection “slow cruising” itineraries featuring small-group, customizable shore excursions and longer stopover times per port.
For Kids: Youth programs begin at age 3, and youth counselors will take kids to dinner. They might interview the captain, stage junior Olympics, take dancing lessons, go on treasure hunts, and more.
For Teens: Dance lessons, sports and games tournaments, pool and beach parties, talent shows, and a new Grand Prix Race Car Driving Simulator where they can practice their three-point turns to prepare for their road tests.
Around the Ship: Kids’ pools, water slides, volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, rotating table tennis, table football, waterpolo, water basketball, water volleyball, darts, hoops, bowling, shuffleboard, and video games on giant screens. In-room sitting is not available, but there is free late night group sitting until 1:30AM for kids ages 3 and up. All of the newest ships have an enclosable pool deck- great for the occasional rainy day- and more than 3,000 square feet of space reserved for kids, including the Squok Lido for little ones and a Teen Club for older kids. The Favolosa has its own waterpark too.
The all-inclusive cruise line, Crystal reports that growing numbers of families and multigenerational groups are opting for the line’s six-star service and designated spaces for kids and teens—rare at this level. The ships carry between 900 and 1,100 passengers with all of the amenities you’d expect on a cruise line touting luxury, service, space and enrichment programs. Kids ages 11 and under are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare when accompanied by two full-paying adults. The line is also expanding opportunities for family travel with the return of its “Kids Sail Free” offers. Book your cruise by January 2, 2015 and the third passenger (17 years and younger) traveling and sharing the guest’s stateroom, cruises for free.
What’s New: Onboard, new menus include dishes created with molecular gastronomy and even some entrees sprinkled with organic herbs and seasonings grown on the ships’ living walls. Experience Crystal Symphony’s redesign (completed September 2014); new late risers itineraries; hypoallergenic staterooms onCrystal Serenity; and themed vacations. In an industry first, Crystal Cruises is offering new site-running experiences at several uban ports of call. These scenic 5K to 14K city running tours start at $69 for approximately one to four hours, and include transportation to/from the course’s beginning and/or end, instructor-led warm ups and stretching beforehand, running guide-narrated sightseeing, reflective safety gear, and healthy refreshments en route.
For Kids: The Junior Activities Program welcomes kids ages 3-17. Activities for children ages 12 and under include arts and crafts, karaoke, scavenger hunts, cookie baking, and more.
For Teens: Waves is a separate teen club and video arcade with Xbox 360s and Playstations, late night pool parties, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Tai Chi instruction, wellness seminars, wine tasting, and art workshops are among dozens of classes offered through Crystal Cruises’ Creative Learning Institute (CLI). Golf clinics and lessons from pros are available on most sailings. The Library offers more than 2,000 titles, including a selection of children’s books and children’s DVD’s for use in the cabins. In-room sitting is available ($10/hour for 1 child, $15/hour for 2 children, $20/hour for 3 children).
Cunard continues the tradition of luxury cruising that began in 1840 complete with fencing (Queen Victoria), dance classes (Queen Elizabeth), and the only ship offering regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, England (flagship Queen Mary 2).
What’s New: Cunard Line has launched a new series of shore excursions featuring an exclusive Macy’s Fashion Breakfast in New York City; England’s Christmas Capital; VIP Royal Tour of London; and Berlin Highlights Tour.
For Babies: The Night Nursery is available for children ages 12-23 months from 6PM-11PM.
For Kids: Kids ages 2-7 are invited to the Play Zone, a play area stocked with books, toys, puzzles, computer games, and more. The Kids Zone is for 8-12 year olds and features videogame consoles, sports competitions, and scavenger hunts.
For Teens: Team games and deck sports are available by day, while evenings bring pizza and dance parties.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
Disney has raised the bar for creative kids’ programming and shore excursions, and a ship design that enables every member of the family—from infants (there is a stand-out nursery) to seniors- to have a real vacation, complete with fireworks at sea. “Dine and Play” means kids are served dinner in an expedited fashion so youth counselors can escort them to organized activities while parents linger. Special shore excursions are designed so parents get a break part of the time.
What’s New: Disney Cruise Line welcomes exciting itineraries for 2014 with the addition of two new homeports in Venice, Italy and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Guests can choose from a number of voyages to explore the Greek Isles, soak up the sun in the Caribbean, discover the wonders of Alaska, and more.
Disney Magic, the line’s first cruise ship, ups its game this year with reimagined spaces and entertainment to delight the whole family. Highlights include redesigned upper-deck water thrills including a 3-story water slide and toddler splash zones; new restaurants (like the Finding Nemo-inspired Cabanas); and the introduction of Marvel’s Avengers Academy, an immersive play space where children interact with their favorite Marvel superheroes.
For Babies: Children ages newborn to 3 years are welcome at the It’s a Small World and Flounder’s Reef nurseries where they’ll be cared for by trained counselors ($9/hour for first child, $8/hour for second child from same family). In partnership with online retailer Babies Travel Lite, Disney Cruise Line guests can also pre-order baby supplies for delivery to their staterooms.
For Kids: Open to kids ages 3-12, the Oceaneer Club is the ultimate destination for creativity and fun. At Marvel’s Avengers Academy, kids join Marvel characters in their latest crime-fighting missions. In Andy’s Room, the stars of Toy Story come to life in a multi-level space stocked with Andy’s favorite toys. Kids will also enjoy making crafts and playing games in the Mickey Mouse Club, or exploring the world of Tinker Bell and friends at Pixie Hollow. And don’t forget the Oceaneer Lab. This pirate-themed, interactive space features an animator’s studio, Navigator Simulators, and more. The Oceaneer Lab is space-themed on the Disney Wonder.
For Tweens: The 11 to 14-year-olds have their own “Edge” club with flat-screen TVs, the latest videogames, theme nights, and karaoke.
For Teens: Teens 14-17 have their own “Vibe” club and, on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, their own sundeck. Open all day (and half of the night), the areas are the perfect chill-out spots with comfy couches and flat-screen TVs. Club hours of operation are typically from 11:00 AM – 2:00 AM, except on day of embarkation. There are special teen shore excursions like the Wild Side at Castaway Cay, where teens explore, snorkel, and go boating around the island.
Around the Ship: Everything from character meals and meet-and-greets, to first-run movies and Broadway caliber entertainment to adult-only restaurants and deck areas. Families love Disney’s private island Castaway Cay with its snorkeling lagoon and kayaking, as well as chances to swim with the stingrays, play in the water park, or head to separate adult and teen beaches.
This line once was considered a haven for seniors cruising to Alaska but now carries more than 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 15 ships every year—including so many multi-generational groups that they have designed a special Family Reunion Program (for groups booking 8 or more rooms) featuring a complimentary room upgrade, $50 beverage card per room, and more. The junior foodies in your gang will love the kids and teen Culinary Arts Center with complimentary cooking lessons. All the kids will like the Cartoon Network offerings that air on the in-cabin television.
What’s New: Holland America is offering several new itineraries in Europe and Asia, such as a 14-day “Asian Adventure” cruise from Singapore, through Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. The cruise line also added a 14-day Europe tour that goes to Iceland, London, and Norway. And coming on their newest ship in 2016 are connecting cabins designed specifically for multigenerational groupings.
For Kids: The Club HAL program provides supervised activities for kids ages 3-12, including PJ parties, arts and crafts, kids Olympics, videogame tournaments, and more.
For Tweens: The 8-12 year olds have their own special area featuring arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, family-safe Internet access (for a minimal fee), videogames, deck sports, and pool parties. They may participate in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program on Alaska cruises.
For Teens: The Loft is an adult-free lounge where teens can hang out and enjoy movies, games, and music. Oasis, a teen-only sundeck with a wading pool and juice bar, is also available on select ships.
Around the Ship: Swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Families love the private island Half Moon Cay with its array of activities like snorkeling, bicycle tours, watersports, and adventure areas. Babysitters are available from 10PM-midnight for kids ages 3 and up ($5/hour per child). Limited services for children under 3 are also available for $10/hour ($7/hour for each additional child). Youth programs are offered on port days when kids are signed up the night before.
MSC Cruises offer innovative itineraries, great family deals and some luxury perks. Kids 11 and under Sail Free year-round on MSC Cruises when traveling as the third and/or fourth guests in a stateroom with two adults, and receive discounts on shore excursions as well. Guests of the MSC Yacht Club also enjoy a luxury lounge with a special concierge and butler service, private dining, and more on all Fantasia-class ships (MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa).
What’s New: Adults and juniors should be excited for the MSC Preziosa, which debuted in March 2013. The ship proudly boasts the longest waterslide at sea, Vertigo, as well as the Doremi Castle Aqua Park for toddlers through teens. In addition, now sailing from Port Miami is sister-ship MSC Divina, featuring a 4-D Cinema, Formula 1 Race Car, Aqua Cycling at Sea and a host of other family-friendly services.
Several of the fleet’s 12 ships will be in the Mediterranean region at some time in 2015, with several ships sailing year round. Guests can select from a variety of Mediterranean itineraries, with cruises of varying lengths (from weekend cruises to 11-night voyages).
For Kids: Organized activities are available for kids ages 3-17. Children are also able to dine together and enjoy a special menu designed especially for them. Fantasia-class ships also boast a colorful candy shop, a children’s waterpark, and indoor/outdoor play areas that make MSC Cruises a fun adventure for kids. Other fleet-wide activities include kids’ cooking classes, talent shows, and a special costume parade.
For Teens: Activities for 13-17 year olds include a teen disco with dancing and karaoke, 4-D interactive cinema and Italian lessons. Teens are also able to enjoy the shops onboard by purchasing a teen card designed for nominal onboard purchases. Weekly teen events can include a Teens White Party, Twisted Scavenger Hunt, MSC Flashmob, and more.
Around the Ship: Miniature golf, tennis, basketball, football, dodgeball, mini-golf, shuffleboard and table soccer. Each ship has a children’s pool area and outdoor play areas with size and amenities varying by ship. Across the fleet, space on board dedicated to the Kids’ Club Program has been expanded and kids can now make better use of other areas of the ship, including the disco, the theatre and the sports courts. On Musica and Lirica-class ships, a special dance floor has even been dedicated to kids and teens so they can show off their moves. In-room babysitting is not available. On shore days, organized activities continue and operate during port days as well.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
Norwegian enables you to cruise with your kids from Miami, New York, Boston, Tampa, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, Vancouver, Quebec, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome (Civitavecchia) or Venice. The line is famous for “Freestyle” Cruising, which means you eat when and where you want. The line’s newest Breakaway class ships even have an outdoor Waterfront promenade with outdoor cafes for the most popular eateries; just be prepared to pay extra to sample some of the specialty restaurants.
What’s New: The line’s newest ship is the Norwegian Getaway, a 1,062-foot ocean liner featuring an Aqua Park with 5 water slides and three-story sports complex that includes the largest ropes course at sea, bungee trampoline, basketball court, rock climbing wall and more. Norwegian Escape – the third Breakaway class ship — will begin weekly 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean in November. In addition to the The Haven luxury cabins, Studios for solo travelers; and multi-generational group cabin configurations, the company promises more innovation, like a three-story ropes course and an even larger aquarpark, the biggest one yet for the family-welcoming cruise line.
For Babies: New to Norwegian is a dedicated nursery area for parents and children, ages 6 months to 2 years. Splash Academy also offers sensory play classes for toddlers under three and their parents including baby art featuring “Wee Can Too” organic art products.
For Kids: Activities for kids ages 3 and up might range from pizza making to treasure hunts. Each Norwegian cruise features live Nickelodeon-themed interactive shows, including SlimeTime LIVE! or other game shows; breakfast with Nickelodeon characters; Nick-themed dance parties and meet and greets with popular characters like Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. Kids can also perform in the “Big Top at Sea” show with the new juggling, spinning, and tumbling skills they’ll learn at circus school.
For Teens: Entourage is Norwegian’s exclusive teen zone for ages 13 through 17. Teens can choose from 20 sports like Ultimate Frisbee, hang out with new friends at pool parties and other themed events, or chill in the lounge equipped with flat-screen TVs, Wii consoles, and a video jukebox.
Around the Ship: Look for onboard bowling alleys and basketball courts, pub crawls and wine tastings for the over-21 crowd, Behind the Scenes tours, and live entertainment. Group sitting services are available nightly and on port days for a small fee ($6/hour for first child, $4/hour for second).
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES
The line operates the longest continually-sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin. No other ship has offered such single-destination focus year-round. Since 2012, the 88-guest Tere Moana has sailed the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.
What’s New: Free roundtrip airfare from LA on French Polynesia itineraries, Australia & Southeast Asia voyages, Fiji itineraries.
For Kids: Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program, created by explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Futures Society. The program is designed to introduce cruisers ages 9-17 to the natural wonders of French Polynesia with hands-on experiences like hiking, exploring coral reefs and rainforest trails, and visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples). They’ll learn how black pearls and vanilla are cultivated, how volcanic islands become coral atolls, and how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Parents are encouraged to join children on eco-excursions and other activities aboard and ashore. This program is available on 2015 holiday cruises, and on 2015 summer cruises for an extra fee.
There is music and even yoga for kids and teens along with the regular activities. Families love the private island and family-friendly shore excursions. Be forewarned that the line’s smaller vessels (Pacific Princess,Ocean Princess) don’t have dedicated youth spaces, but children’s programs operate when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are on board.
What’s New: Introduced last year, the new 3,600-passenger Royal Princess features a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway extending more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel, a pastry shop, expanded space for youth centers where all age groups enjoy dedicated outdoor areas, including a new teen lounge. Toddlers can also join the fun with a special play area just for kids under 3. Princess family-friendly itineraries cruise from the West Coast homeports of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Guests can enjoy sailings to Hawaii, Mexico, the California Coast and even Tahiti and Samoa sailings.
To celebrate the line’s 50th Anniversary, a fleet-wide sale is underway from December 3, 2014 to February 26, 2015. Great rates, 50% discounts on 3 rd and 4 th passengers in a cabin and onboard credits are among the extensive savings for those who want to trade up to Princess. The anniversary also includes a “Love Boat Disco Party” for the nostalgic among you. And since this cruise line sails 3-day to 11-day weekend to around-the-world itineraries to 300 ports on six continents, there’s a destination for everyone.
For Babies: There is a special outdoor deck exclusively for toddlers and their parents.
For Kids: Princess Youth Programs start at age 3; younger children are welcome to use the youth center facilities as long as they are accompanied by an adult. There are three, age-specific programs, starting with Princess Pelicans for ages 3-7. Some special group dinners and activities such as pizza and ice cream parties are offered, but generally the kids centers are closed during meal hours when at sea.
For Tweens: Shockwaves includes talent shows, backstage tours, PJ parties and a Jr.CHEF@Sea program for 8- to 12-year-olds. There is also “Science on the Seas,” an award-winning program developed in conjunction with the California Science Center, as well as the regular programming.
For Teens: For 13- to 17-year-olds, Remix offers teen-only deck parties, hip-hop dance classes with the ship’s professional dancers, DJ workshops, hot tub parties and more. Princess also offers the cruise industry’s only Teen Makeover program, where young participants can learn make-up and skin care techniques. On theGrand and Golden Princess, teens have a separate hot tub and deck area.
Around the Ship: Families love the giant outdoor movie screens, kids pools, the line’s private island Princess Cay, arcades, basketball court and more. Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition on Princess ships, but is now offered on the Promenade Deck from 3:30 to 4:30 daily. Guests can now get moving with Zumba Fitness at sea, the exhilarating dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and contagious choreography. In-room babysitting is not available, but there is late night group sitting for $5 per child. On shore days, youth programs are offered.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS
Upscale families love that the classy cabins are all suites, the cruise is all-inclusive, and there is special pricing for kids. Because the ships are smaller—just 700 guests -– there may just be 50 youngsters on board.
What’s New: All amenities, soft drinks, wine, liquor, tips, and shore excursions are part of the package which includes two-for-one pricing on many ships, free airfare from gateway cities, and early booking savings. The cruise line is offering 16 Alaskan voyages geared to families in 2015, aboard the Seven Seas Navigator.
For Kids: Programming starts at age 5 in three groups (ages 5-9, 10-13, and 14-17), but the Club Mariner youth program is only available during summer and select holidys. Ages 1 and up are welcome to sail, but there are no separate facilities for teens and tweens, though separate activities are offered through the Club Mariner Youth program. The Club Mariner counselors host a variety of activities, including games, craft projects, movies, and “food fun” to make sure each child has a memorable experience. Activities are customized for each group. In-room sitting is expensive and officially not available, but staff members sometimes will babysit upon request.
Think family vacation –- on steroids. Think every kind of food and entertainment you could want aboard some of the world’s biggest ships (Oasis and Allure of the Seas) and on its most innovative, Quantum of the Seas. There is a skydiving simulator, a 300-foot-tall observation pod craning above the deck, bumper cars and basketball, rock walls, indoor lap pools, remarkable digital and live entertainment, teen spa treatments, Nickelodeon character breakfasts, a Flywheel Sports spin studio, room service, and a phone app to control your dinner reservations. And that’s only the beginning — this is not the cruise line for couch potato relaxation.
What’s New: This April, expect Anthem of the Seas to arrive in New York harbor to begin a Caribbean route. She is expected to be outfitted like her older sister, Quantum, who will make Shanghai her new Asia homeport in May. Meanwhile, the lightning speed WiFi delivered by middle-orbiting satellites to the Quantum class ships will be rolled out across many of the fleet’s newer ships, powering new onboard services. More celebrity “experience advisors” will be touting the trendiest in food, fitness and design for cruisers. Using recently developed technology from the Quantum class ships, the company will add exhaust scrubbers to the engines of 13 Royal Caribbean and six Celebrity ships (a sister company.)
For Babies: Aboard select ships, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for toddlers 6-36 months old offers parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime ($6/hour) and evening ($8/hour). On all ships, free-time play is also offered daily, with a variety of developmental toys from Fisher Price in exclusive, specially-designed programs. Parents and children can enjoy unique age-appropriate art activities that feature the Crayola Beginnings line of toddler art tools. The Babies 2 Go program also allows parents to order Gerber organic baby food and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon arrival.
For Kids: The Adventure Ocean programs are available for kids ages 3-11. Activities vary by age and range from art workshops, parades and ice cream parties to scavenger hunts, theater games, and sports tournaments. Kids love the complimentary Barbie programming (ages 4-11) where they’ll enjoy Barbie movie nights, story time, and more. In the Adventure Science program, kids enjoy hands-on science experiments led by trained staff. For 2015, Royal Caribbean is proud to announce their designation as an “autism-friendly ship” where staff has been trained to accept, work with, and facilitate the cruise experience for passengers on the spectrum.
For Teens: Tweens and Teens (12-14 and 15-17) have their own separate activities, including everything from DJ training to movie nights and arcade games. There is a teens-only lounge, nightclub, and spa offering facials, hair treatments, pedicures, and more on each ship.
Around the Ship: Families love to splash around the H2O Zone with pools, waterfalls, a Flowrider surfing simulator and more. The DreamWorks Experience features parades, themed activities and character breakfasts with DreamWorks Animation’s popular feature-film characters, including Po of “Kung Fu Panda;” Shrek, Fiona and Puss In Boots of “Shrek;” and Alex the Lion and Gloria the Hippo from “Madagascar.” For entertainment lovers, on select cruises there are performances of Hairspray and Mamma Mia!, an ice-skating spectacular, movie theater, and AquaTheater dive shows, as well as live jazz and CW.
Also look for zip lines, mini-golf, pool scuba diving (select cruises), and much more. Adventure Family is a free, onboard program that allows children and their parents to participate in planned activities within a structured environment to spend quality time together. Activities depend on the length of the cruise and can range from family discos to talent shows and scavenger hunts. In-room sitters are available ($19/hour for up to 3 kids) and come equipped with books and toys. There is also late-night group babysitting until 2AM ($6/hour per child). On shore days, children’s activities are ongoing.
TAUCK RIVER CRUISES
Tauck has offered river cruises for a number of years, and now have three (one on the Danube, one on the Rhine, and one on the Rhone) designed specifically for families. They have been named to the Travel + Leisure list of the “World’s Best River Cruise Lines for Families.”
What’s New: Featured prominently in Tauck’s 2015 Bridges collection is “Bon Voyage: France Family River Cruise.” The 10-day itinerary begins with an included two-night hotel stay featuring guided sightseeing in Paris that highlights the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and a special dinner. Guests then travel on the high-speed TGV train to Lyon, where they’ll board Tauck’s MS Swiss Emerald for a seven-night cruise on the Rhone.
For Kids: Tauck is including a number of kid-friendly activities for families throughout the itinerary, including a scavenger hunt in Paris’ Louvre, a lesson in petanque (a ball game similar to bocce) in Viviers, a hayride in the Camargue, bicycling in Avignon, and a French cooking demonstration at a Michelin-starred culinary school in Valence. A second Tauck Bridges family river cruise, “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure,” offers a fun exploration of history and culture in Germany, Austria and Hungary along the scenic Danube River. And the third family river cruise, “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventures,” takes the family along the Rhine River, between Basel and Amsterdam, to explore all the historic castles.
Un-Cruise Adventures are unmatched, hands-on small boat explorations. With several styles to choose from — Active, Luxury, Heritage, and Charter Adventures — you have an inviting alternative to your typical cruise. Kayaks and whales, snorkels and paddle boards, mountains and desert, service and wine — all combine to help you uncover an adventure of interest. Then just pack your bags and venture into some of nature’s most exciting playgrounds and historic ports for exploration, eye-to-eye wildlife encounters, and living history. Discover something special in Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Hawaiian Islands, and Coastal Washington & British Columbia. Expect a new line of itineraries focused on Panama and Costa Rica for 2016. Read about the Ogintz family cruise on the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska in Summer 2012.
For Kids: Kids are welcome on most departures, though cruisers under 12 may prefer one of Un-Cruise Adventures’ “Kids in Nature” program departures that are as educational as they are fun. Kids save 25 percent on select KIN itineraries available for Alaskan, Mexican, and Hawaiian cruises.
UNIWORLD RIVER CRUISES
With less than 200 people aboard, Uniworld is a different kind of experience for those seeking five-star yet family-welcoming luxury and the chance to explore new places without the hassle of moving from place to place. The cruise line’s multigenerational family-friendly river cruises feature special pricing which includes all meals and entertainment onboard, exciting shore excursions, complimentary use of bicycles, and transfers on arrival and departure dates.
What’s New: In January 2016, the ship is launching their “India’s Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges” tour through New Delhi to Kolkata. The 12-night tour aboard a 56-passenger, all suite river boat sails the venerated river Ganges, making must-see calls near Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur where guests stay in the famous Oberoi hotels. India complements the line’s other luxury Asia river cruises in China, Vietnam and Cambodia – all selling with a $1200 per stateroom discount through June 2015.
For Kids: While there are no separate facilities, children’s programs start at age 4. Kids will enjoy playing together and watching movies in the Playstation 2 or Wii-equipped game room. There’s also a special menu with kid-friendly food options and complimentary soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard.
Yes, you read this right. Virgin Cruises is the latest adventure for the indomitable Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic near-space mission suffered a terrible loss in October 31, 2014 when one its test spacecraft blew up, killing an elite pilot, injuring a second, and delaying its first commercial flight indefinitely.
We know very little about the new cruise line, except that Virgin is planning to build two large ships with no set launch date. Meanwhile, his Virgin Atlantic Airways continues to be successful and he also recently announced plans to build a hotel. The cruise company’s headquarters will be near Miami, indicating Caribbean routes on their radar. In a December 2014 announcement, Branson said, “We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love.” When asked about the venture he added, “They’ll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a real sense of fun, and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service.”
VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY
Voyages to Antiquity is a special cruise company devoted to exploring ancient cultures via a select group of ports of call. One-week to three-week itineraries follow a theme; our family sailed from Venice to Istanbul on a fascinating jaunt “In the Footsteps of the Venetian Empire.” While we were among the youngest passengers aboard, it’s a wonderful choice for a multigenerational cruise with older teens and adult kids because the expert lectures at sea, complimentary shore excursions and unusual ports allow each cruiser to pursue his own passion.
What’s New: After years of sailing the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean during the spring through fall seasons, the company is moving their one ship, the comfortable 350-passenger MV Aegean Odyssey, to new ports of call in winter. For 2015, it will sail to14 new destinations and commence four new itineraries – south to the Western Sahara, Namibia and South Africa; and east to the Straits of Malacca, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. We trust their expert guides will bring to life the art, history and culture of the new regions visited.
For Kids: While there are no particular facilities for young children, the ship is cozy, safe and intimate. Anyone with an interest in history and geography will appreciate the informal talks, culture evenings, and stocked library featuring books about the destination.
Around the Ship: Cabins range from suites to singles. In addition to using the small gym, pool, bar, and a few restaurants whose excellent cuisine varies each day to match the port of call, the best thing to do is explore the unusual ports easily accessed by this small cruise ship.
Windstar operates six yachts known for their ability to visit harbors and ports larger ships can’t reach. The yachts carry fewer than 300 guests and call on ports throughout Europe, Asia, Arabia, French Polynesia, the Caribbean, and the Americas with a complimentary water sports platform available when the ship is in anchor – subject to weather of course—featuring water skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and windsurfing. The ambiance is relaxed (no jackets or ties needed) but upscale. While these yachts aren’t meant for kids, they’re ideal for parents who want a getaway without the kids or a special trip with grown kids. The company was recently rated the #1 small ship cruise line in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and is known for impeccable service.
What’s New: Windstar is debuting two all-suite power yachts for new excursions to Scandinavia and Iceland, Northern Europe, and Spain, as well as continued cruising to Windstar favorites such as the Greek Isles, the famed Riviera, and Islands of the Western Mediterranean. The company will also offer new year-round sailing in Tahiti starting in May of 2015, including new itineraries to the divers’ paradise of the Tuamotu Islands.
AND A FEW LAST WORDS
Given the drowning deaths in a cruise ship pools of a few passengers the past year, will the industry finally accept some responsibility for the onboard safety of all passengers? We have seen the polls that indicate many cruise passengers would prefer not to have lifeguards on duty; instead they feel that children’s safety should be left in parents’ hands. It is easy to argue however, that no one should lose their life on vacation, regardless of whose “fault” it is, so we hope that 2015 will be the year that lifeguards appear on all ships to watch over those who need them, not those who shun them.
And, we hope 2015 will bring increased scrutiny of environmental policies within the cruise industry. According to the EPA, an average size cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers and crew may produce 21,000 gallons of sewage and up to 150,000 gallons of gray water (from sinks, showers) each day at sea. In 2014, every CLIA member line refused to participate in the annual survey by Friends of the Earth (Cruise Ship Report Card.) Both of these burning issues leave us wondering how long the industry can thrive without paying attention to passenger concerns about safety or a clean environment?
This special FamilyTravelConsulting.com travel section contains advertising and some sponsored content. All opinions are based upon the authors’ actual travel experience and knowledge.
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