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Family Cruising

by Linda Coffman

Redeemable for gifts, an Adventure Ocean attendance card

Know Before You Go

Will your family enjoy a cruise? Most parents report that once they are on board the ship, they barely see their children. Mom can savor some well earned beauty rest while Dad heads for a solitary jog on the deck, secure in the knowledge that their children are happy and well cared for in the youth center.

Organized, age appropriate activities supervised by youth counselors are generally scheduled all day long in well-equipped "kid zones." With breaks in the late afternoon, the action resumes again in the evening. Take care when researching a family cruise vacation, though, as not all programs are created equal. Some cruise lines limit or close activity centers on port days, while others offer as little as group or private babysitting at an additional charge when in port. The best programs are business as usual every day and some even schedule escorted educational shore excursions for older children and teens.

Youth programs are divided into small age groups in order to provide engaging activities for different developmental levels. Generally, children under two, or those not potty trained, will not be accepted into most children's programs. Even on ships with nurseries, due to legal constraints, counselors will rarely change diapers or assist children with their bathroom needs. On some ships, parents are issued a beeper to summon them in case of a problem.

Will there be many children on board? It depends—peak times for family cruises are during school holidays and summer vacations. Be sure to attend the youth program orientation and enroll on the first day of the cruise. Prizes, such as tee-shirts and visors, may be awarded to children who attend the activities, or special goodies are often available for purchase. Real money savers are low-cost soft drink "cards" that allow children to obtain an unlimited number of fountain drinks anywhere on the ship.

Children and teens either love the organized activities or they shy away from them. Parents must realistically assess their children's social skills and desires. Bashful youngsters may not feel comfortable interacting with children they don't know, while some teens may be secretly relieved of the necessity to strike out on their own in search of others their age.

Some cruise lines offer special discounted fares for children occupying the same stateroom as their parents and, while infants sail "free" on some cruise lines, port charges are often assessed.


  • DO book a cruise early; triple and quad cabins are limited and ships have a maximum passenger capacity
  • DO consider adjoining cabins for parents and older children
  • DO find out if the cruise line provides baby supplies (diapers, food) and bring any other necessities
  • DO indicate to the travel agent if a crib or high chair is needed
  • DO bring a stroller for toddlers
  • DO pack a favorite game or stuffed animal
  • DO dress up on Formal Night and have a family portrait taken
  • DO control your children in public areas, especially around the swimming pool
  • DO participate if the children's program invites parents to take part in activities
  • DO bring along 2-way radios to keep track of family members
  • DO plan to spend family time together
  • DO invite the grandparents to come along!

"Multi-generational and family reunion cruising are definitely a growing trend in the travel industry," said David A. Giersdorf, senior vice president, marketing and sales for Holland America Line. "Parents and grandparents can truly enjoy their cruise, knowing their kids are equally enjoying the time in supervised pastimes."

And Don'ts

  • DON'Ts... the major one is don't stress. Once on board, there's no cooking, no dish washing, no bed making or bathroom clean up to take care of and, best of all, no small voices in the back seat of the car asking, "Are we there yet?"

The only significant problem you are likely to encounter on a cruise is convincing the children they have to leave the ship at the end of the voyage. What could be better for the entire family?

BACK TO --> Family Cruising, The Basics


Planning & Packing & Lists For the entire family

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

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