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Family Cruising

Kid Stuff & More, The Basics

by Linda Coffman

A youth counselor straightens up the play area of "Adventure Ocean" on board Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas

The elevator doors opened and two junior cruisers skipped inside, tugging their smiling young father behind them. His grin extended from ear-to-ear as he announced, "This is the BEST part of a cruise!" He was already attired in his tuxedo for a formal night dinner with his wife and the children were anxious to get to their own party in Adventure Ocean, the kids' club on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.

The elevator ascended and with each passing deck the children's excitement grew. "My wife's dressing," their father confided. Mom and Dad planned to dine leisurely on lobster by candlelight, while the children looked forward to pizza and hot dogs with the youth staff in the Solarium, followed by Movie Night. Attired in their pajamas, they would "scramble" for sleeping bags, paint pillowcases to take home with them, and watch "Little Rascals" movies until 10:00 pm. Should mom and dad wish to dance away the evening after dinner, the children's Late Night Party Zone offered group babysitting for a small additional charge.

High tech & high energy, Club HAL on board Holland America Lines' Zuiderdam

Parents who wish to share "adult" time on their family cruise vacation no longer find it necessary to engage a nanny or au pair to watch over their little ones. Contemporary shipboard facilities dedicated to the entertainment of children and teens have evolved from simple playrooms with a few board games and toys to vast deck areas, both inside and out, which contain a dazzling array of options from educational to simply fun.

Youth programs are manned by counselors carefully screened and chosen for their ability to relate to children; most have a background in education or early-childhood development. Their function is to provide a safe environment for age appropriate play and learning—a "day camp" at sea. Activities vary by cruise line, but the emphasis is on enjoyable pursuits that offer an educational bonus—science and astronomy programs, arts and crafts projects, history and geography of the ports of call, and even training in social graces and dance are a few of the planned pursuits. 

"Cruising is one of the few vacations that gives individual members of the family time to do their own thing," says Anita Dunham-Potter, mother of two daughters. "My girls really enjoy the activities offered and most of the time don't want to leave the kids area when its time to pick them up."

"YEP"—Let's Get Serious

Spacious & stimulating, the Kid's Crew youth center on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn 

Water slides and computers are popular, but it's not all fun and games on a cruise. Appropriate behavior is critical to ensure the safety of all participants in group programs and participants are subject to disciplinary procedures for unacceptable actions. After a warning, a 'time out' may be issued, and suspension or dismissal from the program is the ultimate punishment for continued unsuitable behavior.

In case of an emergency, cruise lines adhere to "YEP"—the Youth Evacuation Program. When registered in on board youth programs, all children under the age of 13 are issued an ID bracelet that must be worn at all times. Upon hearing the ship's emergency signal, parents are instructed to go to their muster stations, stand in the front row, and await the arrival of their children. All children are outfitted with a life jacket, escorted to their assigned muster station, and supervised until they are reunited with their parents.

Terrific Teens

Teen Disco on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn

Possibly the pickiest passengers on any ship are those in the 13-17 age group. Teens are... like, well... cool... and some aren't keen to join 'group' activities, depending on their individual degree of independence. On the other hand, there are probably an equal number (or more) who enjoy checking in at the teen center early in the cruise to meet and hook up with other teens. Teenagers, unlike younger children, are generally free to come and go as they please in a less structured environment.

Counselors are also on hand to chaperone dances and host pool parties, trivia games, and scavenger hunts. Other activities can include sports and fitness classes, Karaoke, talent shows, and "mock-tail" parties. Facilities vary, but most ships have at least a video game area and computers. On the newest ships there are Teen Centers and Discos. Vessels without them usually allow teens to dance in the adult disco until about 11:00 pm.

Cruises aren't like other vacations where teens are pretty much tied to their parents and there is a lot of freedom, but there are also rules. During group activities, teens are not allowed to smoke, curse, or consume alcoholic beverages. Security will step in if any vandalism or violent behavior is observed. Teens are encouraged to have a good time, meet their peers, and... like, well... chill out.

NEXT --> Before You Go & Do's and Don'ts


Planning & Packing & Lists For the entire family

The Cruise Planning Timeline Practical considerations to take care of before your cruise

Images: Zuiderdam & Enchantment of the Seas ©™ and
 Norwegian Dawn Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

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