What are most families ultimately looking for when they cruise? Time apart to enjoy some adult time while children are engaged in the youth program with their peers? Time spent as a family together-- away from hectic everyday responsibilities -- which fosters connecting and bonding? Yes, to all of the above!
My recent five-day Carnival Cruise aboard the Carnival Triumph from New York City to coastal Canada afforded my son Ethan, teen daughter Alex and her friend Vienna just that - time for pursuits alone or with peers, in addition to many opportunities to break away from the everyday and have fun together.
Family Activities Rule!
On embarkation night, there was a family welcome party in the disco followed by a similar party a few days later which was a tribute to Michael Jackson. It was great to see parents and kids dancing and doing some group dance games together.
Another family activity was the Camp Carnival talent show which is featured at the end of each Carnival cruise and highlights the singing, dancing and comical talents of the kids. While this and the family parties are free, there is another family activity, Build a Teddy Bear, which costs families extra and is offered once per cruise. Children can choose from various clothing options to dress their bear.
The ship itself offered many family activities. Like all Carnival ships, the Carnival Triumph had the line's trademark corkscrew water slide, which was a favorite with my eight-year-old son. (Note: Children must be 42" to slide.) Another spot my eight-year-old son and I frequented was Underground Tokyo games arcade. We also liked to play the nine-hole miniature golf course which was conveniently located right atop our cabin. The ship's aft pool was also great for families since the pool was the focal point of the area and it was flanked by the grill and 24-hour pizzeria.
Details of Youth Program
Camp Carnival hours on sea days are: 9 a.m. to noon (on port days the youth program opens earlier to accommodate parents going on shore excursions without children); 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and 5 p.m. to 10 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. until 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., there is an hourly fee of $6 per child ($4 for the second child in a family) until the program closes at 3:00 a.m.
Some of the newer Carnival ships have dedicated youth rooms for each age group. However, the Carnival Triumph had one main youth room that was home to the littlest ones, aged two to five years. The other groups use public rooms such as the teen club or disco for their activities when these rooms are not otherwise in use. There was a splash pool one deck above the youth room for parents to take their children to and watch independently. Unfortunately, the design of the youth room makes check-in and check-out extremely slow. Leave yourself plenty of time to check-in if you have to be at a spa appointment at a certain time, for example. Newer Carnival ships generally have two doors for check in, not one like the Triumph, thus making it a faster process than ours was.
Carnival offers a number of family oriented rentals on each ship. These include strollers, Game Boys, and Game Boy games.
"Fun Ship" Freddy R
After the Freddy parade, the kids returned to the youth room where Freddy appeared for the kids to excitedly ask questions. Afterwards, children's Freddy t-shirts and books were for sale for Freddy to sign. My son Ethan was pretty excited that Freddy autographed his shirt and made sure I washed the t-shirt properly when we got home so that the signature would not wash off!
Other Youth Program Highlights
One of Ethan's favorite times to go to the youth program was when they could play PlayStation2 or wii, being the techno-kid that he is! We made sure we balanced this by plenty of land exploration while in the Canadian ports of Halifax and Saint John.
I found the youth counselors to be very gentle and caring with the little ones in the 2 to 5 year old group. The counselors in the 6 to 8 year old group were somewhat distant and didn't connect with the kids as I recall past Carnival youth counselors. This might in part have been due to a language barrier - none of them spoke English as their native language. The youth counselors in the 9 to 11 age group seemed to strike a better balance at connecting with the kids, enjoying the kids' sense of humor, and yet getting respect from the tweens.
My son Ethan is a very easy going child so he had no problem with the larger groups which meant more boys to bond with at any given time. Between the youth activities, the family activities organized by the youth staff, and the family-friendly public facilities such as the arcade and slide, Ethan had plenty of time alone with his peers to play as well as quality time with me to relax and have fun together for a change! And that's why we parents really want to cruise with our kids anyway, right?
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