Exploring Camp Carnival

| June 6, 2005

Our recent Carnival Victory cruise marked the first time my three-year-old son Ethan was old enough to participate in a youth program at sea, and I was glad we were aboard a Carnival ship to mark that event. Carnival, which carries more children at sea than any other line, goes the extra mile in accommodating its littlest cruisers. I was anticipating possible tears each time we left Ethan off at Camp Carnival, but instead he happily joined his fellow two-to-five-year-old cruisers in an array of fun activities.

Camp Carnival Details

Making palm birds in Jamaica
Camp Carnival splits children into four groups: 2 to 5 years old; 6 to 8 years; 9 to 11 years; and 12 to 14. Older teens in the 15 to 17 year group have their own Club O2 advisor, and their program is operated by the cruise staff and not Camp Carnival. Children age eight and under must be signed in and out by a parent; those nine and over can sign themselves in and out.

Camp Carnival hours for the two to 11 year olds are: 9 a.m. to noon (note that on port days, the youth program opens earlier to accommodate parents going on shore excursions without children); 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. is family library time, when a child must be accompanied by an adult to participate; and regular Camp Carnival activities start again from 2-5 p.m.

Each night, youth counselors take kids to the buffet dinner at 5:45 p.m. Camp Carnival then re-opens from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., group babysitting is available for those under nine years old in the youth room, at an hourly fee of $6 per child ($4 for the second child in a family). Those nine to 11 years old have Inters After Hours activities in the aerobics studio, which includes Game Boys and other games; the same hourly fee as above applies.

Lots for Little Ones

Alex, Ethan and friends on deck
Most cruise lines mandate that tots be at least three years old and potty trained, but Camp Carnival's counselors are not daunted by dirty diapers. Carnival is the only line that accepts two year olds into its program and offers diaper-changing services. Parents just need to supply diapers each day to the youth counselors. Parents of children in this age group receive a beeper at the start of the cruise in case they need to be contacted. I found the youth counselors, particularly in this age group, to be very caring with the little ones. There was a special-needs two year old with whom the youth counselors were especially patient.

This youngest age group made the Camp Carnival youth room their home base while the older age groups usually met in various clubs throughout the ship. The brightly colored room featured a tot-sized bathroom, video wall, sand art machines, and Space Maze, a padded climbing apparatus. There was also a splash pool one deck above the youth room for parents to take their children to and watch independently (I was amazed, however, at how some parents left their little ones there unattended). My son Ethan loved the splash pool on sea days -- which was a relief since the large pools were extremely crowded.

Mascot Fun Ship Freddy
My only criticism of Camp Carnival for the two-to-five-year-old group is that there were often long lines for checking your child in and out. Once you checked them in, they were whisked into the Camp Carnival room, which could not be seen from the check-in door. This was a bit daunting, particularly when we handed over our child the first day and couldn't see what the facility looked like. According to Kasey Zwanenburg, director of the youth program for the Carnival Victory, the slow check-in procedure and the inability to view the kids' room is due to the design of the Destiny-class ships. She noted that some of the newer ships have two doors for check-in at the Camp Carnival room, which expedites the procedure.

Some of the activities that Ethan enjoyed during his time at Camp Carnival include painting (literally!) the counselor, painting the windows, Space Maze story time, music and movement activities, and the Blues Clues-themed activities (which included adorable face painting).

Little ones under two years are welcome at Camp Carnival on mornings when the ship is in port as well as during the group babysitting time frame from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. For $6 per hour during this time, the counselors would pull out strollers, mats and other baby necessities to accommodate infants and toddlers. Other than Disney Cruise Line's nursery, only a few lines offer only private babysitting; most cruise lines do not offer any services for this age group. Carnival's minimum age to sail is four months old.

Kid Fun

Camp Carnival kids and counselors
The six to eight year olds seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely whenever I stopped by their room. One of the most lively activities was called magazine race, where each child received a magazine and tried to be the first one to find a picture of an object that the youth counselor called out. These grade schoolers also enjoyed the Fun Ship Freddy (the line's mascot) themed activities, which included coloring a Fun Ship hat in the shape of the line's trademark whale's tale funnel; getting Fun Ship Freddy through the maze; and even a Fun Ship Freddy scavenger hunt. At the culmination of these activities Freddy showed up for photo ops.

The nine to 11 year olds seemed less enthusiastic about the group activities offered them. A few times I stopped in to see some of Carnival's newest themed activities under the banner of EduCruise, but on two occasions they were a bit disappointing. For example, the EduCruise theme on the Maya (which tied in with our call in Mexico) never materialized because the kids weren't interested in doing it. Another time there was a science themed activity in which the kids were learning about rockets and then decorated cylinders. However the youth counselor didn't have the correct supplies to attach to the cylinders to make them shoot up like rockets.

This nine to 11 year old age group, which included my daughter, seemed more interested in active programming either under the heading of ExerSeas – such as making "Survivor" teams and dueling it out with deck games – or old faithfuls like a pool party, scavenger hunt, and dress-the-contestant competition. My 11-year-old daughter Alex was chosen to dress up for the competition, so she and her teammates had to find various funny objects in their cabins to put on Alex. This was a big hit since it was both active and entertaining. Alex and the friends she made on the ship would have liked more activities of that nature.

Face painting
One big event that she didn't participate in was the Overnight Challenge, available once per cruise for the 9 to 11 year olds. Youth counselors keep the kids entertained from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. with various activities such as capture the flag, karaoke, arts ‘n crafts, water games, snacks and watching the sun rise. There is a $32 fee for the event, which includes a prize for those who make it through the entire night. On our cruise, 25 out of the 28 youngsters participating made it through the night without going back to their cabin to sleep. While the kids love the challenge, as a parent, I was happy my daughter decided not to do it since I know she'd be dragging for days after pulling an all-nighter!

Teen Time

The programming for the 12 to 14 year olds starts and ends a bit later than for the younger kids. Most activities don't begin until about 10 or 10:30 a.m., then break at noon for lunch before resuming from two to five or six p.m. Evening activities start much later at about 8:30 p.m. and continue until 1 a.m. Unlike the younger groups, there is no fee for the late evening activities. Some of the group activities this age group enjoyed include teen discos; competitions such as Dog Eat Dog eating contest; and musical jeopardy, which is a SeaNotes activity. SeaNotes, ExerSeas, EduCruise, and H2Ocean integrate music, exercise, geography and science, respectively, into hands-on activities. All of this newer programming is available for all age groups at various times throughout the fleet.

Alexandra and Ethan decorating cookies
The activities for the 15 to 17 year olds are under the jurisdiction of the Carnival cruise staff and not the youth counselors. Over the past few years Carnival has been trying various approaches on how to best entertain this traditionally hard-to-engage age group. For many years, new Carnival ships did not have teen centers/discos but over the past few years they have once again been included on new builds or added to many existing ships during dry dock. On the Carnival Victory, there wasn't a dedicated teen disco as there is on many other large cruise lines. Instead, the older teens danced at the adult disco in the evening prior to the adult hours.

The 15 to 17 year olds, however, did have a gathering spot called Club O2 where they met in the afternoon and evenings on sea days and only in the evenings on port days. ClubO2 overlooks the fitness center and did not afford the privacy of a dedicated teen disco/teen hang out. Some of the activities for the older teens include a Teen Mocktail party on formal night, Battle of the Sexes competitions, and a teens-only shore excursion offered once per cruise.

Next Page: Shore Excursions

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