Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, and Norwegian cruise lines are all known for their super kid friendly programs on board the ship. These cruise lines have put many features on board their ships so that they can appeal to family vacationers. Royal Caribbean has ice rinks, rock climbing walls, mini-golf, and Dream Works Characters. Carnival has water slides, Fun Ship Freddy, mini-golf and their famous Camp Carnival. Disney has a whole host of kids activities, all the Disney characters, and that magical Disney touch. Norwegian’s new ships features huge water parks and Nickelodeon characters. All of these cruise lines are usually the ones that first come to mind when thinking about a cruise for families.
However, what do you do as a parent when you want to cruise with your kids and all that activity is more than your really want to do? What if you really want something a little more low key so that all that excitement doesn’t take away from the quality time you want to spend with your kids. Maybe you’d like to play family card games or chess, or just have long conversations with you kids. You can probably find a time and place for these types of activities on a super family friendly ship but, a different type of cruise experience might better suit your needs.
The Premium Alternative
Many parents are aware of all there is to do on these super kids friendly cruise lines, but what type of experience is available on the lines that don’t target families as their first demographic. Parents wonder if they are short changing their kids if they choose something that appeals more to their taste than their kids. My advice is that you know your kids better than anyone else does, so with an understanding of what your kids like and enjoy you can consider some of the following premium lines when choosing a cruise for your family.
Italian cruise line MSC offers Kids Sail Free on all their cruises for 12 and under sharing a cabin with two adults. For those 12-17 they offer substantially reduced fares, usually only $99 per junior. However they are not the first cruise line that comes to mind in the North American market for family cruising. They are, however, a huge player in the European market. For their Caribbean cruises they offer a taste of Italy in the Caribbean on board their MSC Poesia, a beautifully decorated midsized 2007 built ship which MSC wants to position in the premium category. The ship has a true Balinese spa, refined ambiance, and unobtrusive service that focuses on attention to detail. Their dining room menu offers a rotating regional Italian menu and continental choices. Their kids program is fully staffed with experts who are fluent in multiple languages. They offer kids play zones, a teen club, kids menu, mini golf and many other kid friendly activities.
Strongly positioned as a premium line around the world, Princess offers a variety of family friendly activities in an elegant customer friendly setting. Princess uses the acronym C.R.U.I.S.E to describe their service excellence program: “Courtesy, Respect, Unfailing in Service Excellence. It’s the heartfelt greeting you receive from the Captain, the smiling face of your stateroom steward, or the waiter who knows you prefer a decaf espresso. And it’s how we’ve treated the most discriminating guest for more than 40 years running.” Most of Princess’s marketing imagery features elegant middle-age to young senior couples in a relaxed atmosphere enjoying attentive service and elegant meals. However, because they know that people with kids and families also appreciate this type of experience, they offer a multi-tiered kids program with plenty of activities to keep the kids engaged. They have a comprehensive Science at Sea program developed in partnership with the California Science Center provides a fun learning experience which allows the kids to learn more about the ocean and conservation. Princess also features many family friendly attractions in their “Movies Under The Stars” out door theater. The kids can watch movies or even participate in video game tournaments on the giant screen. Princess offers flexible dining options so that the kids can eat with Mom and Dad, or the kids can dine with other kids while Mom and Dad enjoy a night to themselves. While Princess doesn’t offer the water slides of its sister line Carnival, it does offer fresh water pools as opposed to the salt water pool common on most cruise ships. Princess has often been voted the cruise line with the best destinations and is a leader in the Alaska Cruise Tour market, so for those families wanting see more of the world, Princess can be a good choice.
Most often people think of a Holland America as a premium, high quality line that caters mostly to older clientele. While that might be true on many of their non-holiday longer voyages, Holland America offers a comprehensive kids program and will have many young people sailing with them on holiday and summer voyages. It is not uncommon to see many generations of the same family on board during the Christmas and holiday seasons. They offer Club Hal with programs for kids ages 3-12 and an exclusive teen club and even teen deck with private waterfall on the ms Rotterdam, all supervised by Holland America’s highly trained staff. Holland America is know for its gracious service, but also offers meals that designed by their elite culinary council which includes famous chef’s like Marcus Samuelsson and Jaqes Torres. Holland America features their “Culinary Arts Center” where adults can attend demonstrations and cooking classes, and kids and teens can participate in their own special programs. If you have a kid that is addicted to Food Network the culinary center might be better suited to them than a water slide.
Celebrity offers a premium modern luxury experience at an affordable price. They have many new or newly remodeled ships that feature sophisticated decor and extremely personalized and attentive service. Their ships have won many cruisers awards for best in class. They carve our a separate niche from their extremely family friendly sister line Royal Caribbean. They are a bit more upscale with fewer active features. Instead of a mini-golf course and a Flo-Rider found on the newer RCCL ships, Celebrity has a lawn club with croquet and bocce ball and either a hot glass sculpting show or lawn club interactive grill specialty restaurant on their Solstice class ships. You won’t find any animated movie characters on board, but instead you’ll find waiters that give the kids brain teasers and puzzles to figure-out after dinner or that make puppets out of folded napkins to entertain the kids. The youth program is staffed by trained child care and child education workers who keep the kids engaged in every kind of activity from arts and crafts to X-Box 360.
I can speak from much personal experience when it comes to Celebrity. We have taken our own kids, from the time that they were 7 and 9 to the time they were 11 and 13, on 5 Celebrity cruises. It was a perfect fit for our family. We found that the kids club was fun but that we also had time for some family time together. Sometimes the kids would want to participate in the youth activities, other time they would join us for all ages activities, or free time. They loved dressing up for formal nights and attending elegant seated dinners in the ship’s main dining room. We have been on cruises with as few as 3 other children on the entire ship, and some with as many as 123 children. The youth staff provided a fun safe environment no matter how many kids they had on board. The cruises with more children were shorter, summer or holiday cruises, and the ones with very few children were Trans-Atlantics in early December when we took the kids out of school. We always found the staff to attentive and gracious with our kids.
Families have many choices when it comes to choosing a vacation option. Parents should know that the premium lines offer an alternative to the 4 lines most commonly associated with family cruising, These 4 “Contemporary” lines offer a very family friendly vacation that will keep the kids wanting to come back year after year. They keep expanding their lines and adding more and more family friendly options like Carnival’s interactive stage game show “Hasbro Family Game Night” and the “Guy’s Burger Joint” included dining option featuring Guy Fieri’s burgers. Royal Caribbean is known for putting things you’d never thought you’d see on a cruise ship like an ice rink and a real Broadway musical. Norwegian has raised the bar again with the Epic, Breakaway, and Getaway buy adding more activities for the whole family like their Dora the Explorer family adventure. Finally, Disney does family like no other with interactive animations, Disney characters and many magical Disney touches.
However, if families are looking for a vacation experience that is not quite so “over the top”, the premium lines offer quality family and youth programs in an elegant, more sophisticated atmosphere. The choice is up to the parents who know their families preferences, activity level, interests, and what they want to get out of the overall vacation experience. To learn more about these cruise lines, itineraries, and pricing visit www.empirecruisetravel.com.