Finding The Perfect Family Cruise - My Family Travels

Dreaming of a cruise but not sure where to begin? Here are 7 strategies for picking a winner for everyone in your family.

Look at this strange sight: the entire family is sitting down for dinner together. Amazing… such a simple event in hectic times, but that’s the good news for families on a cruise. The bad news is that junior feels there are far too many formal dinners and hardly any activities geared to his age level. And even worse: there’s a shortage of baby sitters for his younger sister.

Obviously, families considering a cruise can appreciate some time spent together but they also need to look at separate activities geared to different age groups. So how do you determine what cruise will please all members of a family, often with divergent interests?

Why Families Like Cruise Vacations

Actually, the cruise lines in recent years have been making this much easier. And that’s no surprise when you consider that up to one-third of all cruisers these days involve families.

Some advantages of cruises for mom and dad include the fact you can plan expenses much easier than during a land-based vacation. After all, your meals are provided and you can determine beforehand the cost of your shore options.

Finding A Cruise To Please Everyone

In general, when it comes to families, it’s probably best to consider first the newer ships. These vessels are more inclined to have been designed for families — rather than adapted — like the older ones.

Destinations are also an important consideration. Alaska and the Caribbean are particularly kid-friendly places to visit.

The 1st Consideration:  How Old Are The Children

Most cruise ships have organized activities for children ages 2 to 17-years, with well-stocked playrooms, wading pools, kid’s menus and cabins that can accommodate up to five people.

But a particular problem is always teenagers who may tolerate mom and dad but clearly prefer peers over the company of parents. So the simple answer here is to find cruises with a lot of teenagers.

What do teens want? What the cruise lines are offering, of course, such as hot tubs, rock-climbing walls, waterslides, mini-golf courses, basketball/volleyball courts, 24-hour food offerings and, of course, video arcades.

The 2nd Consideration:  School Schedules

To cope with teenagers, parents should also consider school schedules. You obviously don’t want to book a cruise when schools are in session.

Teenagers with girlfriends and boyfriends are likely to complain about the one left behind. So an Internet café is handy (larger ships will invariably have them), but mom and dad might want to remind the kids that the costs are often upwards of $1 a minute.

The 3rd Consideration:  Onboard Programs To Keep Kids Busy

Onboard programs for children have taken huge steps in recent years. Typically, parents will find supervised children’s programs organized into three or four different groups. It’s also not unusual for ships to have a teen clubhouse.

Most cruises offer programs by age categories but parents should keep in mind that not all kids’ programs are offered year-round; some are seasonal.

Parents will also certainly want to know about features “for children only.” Is there a children’s only-pool on the ship, for example, and what are the shore excursions geared for children?

Something else to watch for: some cruises, catering to families’ varied needs, offer more youth programs for little ones during shore excursions, thus allowing parents to go sight-see while the kids are entertained on the ship.

The 4th Consideration:  How Long Is The Cruise?

If you’re looking at a general cruise not specifically geared to families, consider the length of time. The longer the trip (say 10 days and up),  the more likely passengers are older and the greater the chances children will be scarcer.

Also undesirable: the really short trips of 3-4 days often draw the childless “party hardy” crowd.

The 5th Consideration:  Cabins And Sleeping Arrangements

One new emerging concept for mom and dad to consider is the family suite. Many of the newer cruise ships have them.

No, cabins will probably not be as spacious as what you’ll get on land. But keep in mind that Disney and Carnival generally have the largest rooms available.

For those who want and can afford two cabins, adults can get the outside, more expensive quarters with sea views, while children have their own freedom in an inside (and cheaper) cabin. Some ships offer discounts up to 50% on connecting “family cabins.” Others also allow cots for an extra child.

The 6th Consideration:  Dining Options

A trend recently has been towards more open, informal dining with no assigned seats. This is certainly cause for celebration from family cruisers, but mom and dad may also want to be sure their cruise offers a children’s menu.

And how about popular and familiar favorite dishes such as pizza and hot dogs?

The 7th Consideration:  Researching And Booking the Cruise

One other general tip when considering cruises: there are travel agents and websites that specialize in family cruise vacations. So even if you don’t book through them, these sites have plenty of advice on smooth sailing.

Round Up Of Top Family Cruise Lines

Disney and Carnival are the two cruise lines generally at the top of the list when considering family cruises. In addition to what they offer, here are some characteristics of other top cruise lines and what they offer to young sailors.

Disney (800/951-3532): Generally given the highest marks for service with an entire deck for kids, a lot of counselors (as many as 50 on a ship), age-specific programs and many hands-on programs. Parents get pagers when they drop the kids off at the Oceaneer Club (3-8) and the Oceaneer Lab (9-12). Babies can relax at the Flounder’s Reef Nursery, though there’s an extra charge. There’s a private lounge and Internet café for children. And where else can you find kids-only Mouseketeer Training?

Carnival (888/Carnival): Fun ships are known for their let-the-good-times-roll attitude for adults, but the cruise line is creative in finding ways to please all age groups.  Computer stations, climbing mazes, movies, various arts and crafts activities, as well as a ton of toys are geared to all ages. All children’s pools have water slides. There’s a wading pool for the littlest children.

Royal Caribbean (866/562-7625): Rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, miniature golf and roller blading are common programs. Ships have some of the largest dedicated kid facilities in cruising. Teen facilities include Fuel, a nightclub, and the Living Room, a coffee-style hangout. A teen center on some ships is open until 2 am every night. The cruise line is one of the few to provide many activities at no charge.

Princess Cruises (800-PRINCESS): The Caribbean Princess was designed for families, so there are separate programs for both children and adults. Arts and crafts games for children include painting their own T-shirts and scavenger hunts. There’s a splash pool for kids. Many ships have family suites. The Personal Choice Dining program allows a choice between traditional cruise dining (same table and same time) or more flexible, restaurant-style eateries.

Norwegian (866/625-1166): Their Norwegian Jewel offers Freestyle Dining, which is the most flexible dining program in the industry. Several restaurants are perfect for children, offering separate buffet areas just for them that are piled high with chicken nuggets and French fries. The Splashdown Kids Club offers a play gym, movie theatre, computer center and arts area. There are private hot tubs for kids where no grown-ups are allowed.

Crystal Cruises (888/722-0021): The youngest cruisers, ages 3 to 6, can take “stretchercize” classes and learn how to make pizza. This line offers programs that are multi-generational, as well as separate offerings for kids and parents. Kids can go on backstage tours of the ship. There’s a Junior Cruisers menu.

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