Enchantment for Families

| September 6, 2005

Royal Caribbean International, which has always had a top-rate youth program, has added even more active, family-friendly facilities for kids aboard the newly lengthened Enchantment of the Seas. During our recent cruise aboard Enchantment to New England and Canada, my 12-year-old daughter Alex jumped high above the Atlantic Ocean on the only bungee trampolines at sea; my husband John scaled a rock wall; my three-year-old son Ethan frolicked in the circular splash fountain; and I enjoyed dancing with all three of them during the nightly family disco hour.

Jumping and Climbing

Alex on bungee trampoline
This summer, Royal Caribbean unveiled the first bungee trampolines at sea aboard the Enchantment of the Seas. The ship was cut into two pieces in dry dock, and a new 73-foot midsection was inserted. This new section included a splash fountain for kids, four tethered trampoline jumps and 151 new staterooms.

Alex doing a flip on bungee trampoline
The four bungee trampolines are huge hits. Passengers must be six years old and weigh between 40 and 240 pounds to participate. Passengers are strapped into a harness that is connected to bungee cords. This allows participants to soar skyward and do flips in the air during a two-minute jump time. Since the Jump Zone is very popular, you should get in line before opening time, or you could easily wait in line 45 minutes. My daughter was glad she jumped first thing on our initial sea day; her planned second jump on the last day was cancelled due to very high wind conditions. According to Adarayll John, the sports supervisor aboard Enchantment, the staff measures the wind speeds daily.

"While the line's trademark rock wall is still very popular, we have a few less climbers now that the trampolines are open," noted John. "Some people come on board and their top priorities are climbing the wall and jumping on the trampoline," he added.

Those under six years old -- too young to participate in the rock wall or jump zone -- have a new spot on Enchantment to call their own. The pool area was increased by 50 percent during the lengthening, and a large circular splash fountain for kids was added. The 64 water jets on the floor, perimeter, and central dome create a fountain effect that kids love to frolic in. You may want to bring water shoes for your child to prevent them from falling, since the surface gets slippery, especially if kids run around. At night, the central dome is lighted, creating a fiber optics and water show.

Alex on rock wall
Next to the splash fountain is one of the two pools; it has a large wading section separated from the deep part of the pool by a decorative fence. We had a hard time getting Ethan out of the pool because he felt very comfortable in the shallow section, and it was a great place to meet up with others his age.

For the Very Young

Another new fleet-wide addition of interest to parents with little ones is the Fisher-Price Aqua Babies programming. These daily 45-minute interactive sessions are open to infants and toddlers from six to 36 months and their caregivers. Aqua Babies gives those who are too young to participate in the youth program -- which starts at three years for those who are potty trained -- a chance for some activities tailored just for them. Most of the sessions, held at 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. for six-18 months and 19-36 months respectively, involve free play with a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys. Toward the end of each session, the youth counselor reads a book to the youngsters and sings a song with them.

Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots are not swimming programs, as the name implies. Both programs focus on gross motor skills, while Aqua Babies focuses on self-discovery with Fisher-Price toys and Aqua Tots stresses social skills like sharing. The line delivers daily child development informational sheets from Fisher-Price to staterooms of families with children under three years old.

Royal Caribbean is one of the few lines to offer private, in-room babysitting. We used it a few years ago when my son was just over one year old and were very pleased with the woman who babysat. The fee is $8 per hour for up to two children within the same family and $10 per hour for a maximum of three children in the same family. The service is available to those over six months old. Reserve a babysitter with the guest relations staff soon after you get on board to insure availability.

Ethan at splash fountain
I noticed a number of new fleet-wide family activities while we were on board. The one we enjoyed most was the family disco, held nightly right after first seating dinner. We really enjoyed participating in this fun family activity before the kids went off to their respective youth programs. A lot of families who showed up for the disco had young children under three years old, too young to participate in Adventure Ocean youth programs. This was a welcome activity for these little ones and their parents.

Other activities open to all ages include the family inky toss, a deck game involving Adventure Ocean's octopus mascot. There was also a family scavenger hunt one day. We missed it, however, since we didn't know about it. These are all great family activities, but they need to be publicized more to increase attendance.

When the day's activities were done, Alex and Ethan looked forward to seeing which towel animal our gentle and hard-working room steward made for them. They also loved seeing how he artistically arranged all their stuffed animals in various formations on pillows on their beds.

Youth Program Details

Alex and Ethan in kids' pool
There were 14 youth counselors overseeing all the age groups of Royal Caribbean's youth program Adventure Ocean. All have experience in working with children and are CPR certified. On the first day, the counselors introduce themselves and their "nutty names" (such as Sponge Pete Silly Pants and Autumn Leaf); the younger kids had to come up with fun names to put on their name tags too. For example, my son loves animals, so he was named Elephant Ethan. We found many of the counselors on our voyage a bit more subdued than some of the lively youth counselors we've experienced on past Royal Caribbean voyages, but they still did a wonderful job of keeping the kids entertained. What we really like about Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean is that it's chock-full of activities, day and night. Many youth programs have one main activity per morning, afternoon or evening session, and too much free play time in between.

Over the past few years, Royal Caribbean has introduced a number of intellectually stimulating programming for all ages. These include: Adventure Science, which focuses on simple, age-appropriate yet entertaining experiments; Adventure Art by Crayola, featuring hands-on artistic projects; and Sail Into Storytime, for kids from three to eight years old. Sail Into Storytime is offered twice a day for three to five year olds and once a day for six to eight year olds. During each one-week cruise, Adventure Science projects are offered 10 times per age group, and Adventure Art is available eight to nine times.

Adventure Ocean divides children into the following age groups: three to five years (must be potty trained); six to eight; nine to 11; 12 to 14; and 15 to 17. Parents decide at what age they allow their children to sign themselves in or out. Most sign themselves out by the time they are in the nine-year-old group.

Hours for Adventure Ocean on sea days are 9 a.m.-noon; 2-5 p.m.; and 7-10 p.m. Adventure Ocean Late Night Party Zone starts at 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. This is fun group babysitting offered in the youth rooms for $5 per hour per child for those over three years old and fully potty trained. On port days, the youth program opens one half hour prior to the first shore excursion departure. Teen hours start later and vary slightly. On port days, activities don't begin until 5 p.m. for 12-14 year olds and 8 p.m. for 15-17 year olds.

Three times during each seven day cruise, the youth counselors take children to dinner with them at the buffet area or grill for burgers, pizza and fries. This way, parents can enjoy a quiet meal or even check out the alternative restaurants. My husband and I had a delicious meal one night at Chops Restaurant, sans kids.

Adventure Ocean Highlights

Adventure Ocean youth counselor and kids
There were close to 400 children from one to 17 years old on our early August sailing. They were kept busy by some of the following highlights of the youth program.

As a parent of a three-year-old, I like how Adventure Ocean splits its activities into 15-minute time segments for the three to five year olds. Children at that age have a hard time focusing on the same activity for long periods, so this fits their abilities. Most sessions have themes such as pirate night, camping activities, and pajama party/movie night. The pirate night was Ethan's favorite, with face painting and a parade throughout the ship. The ship's photographers even took cute pictures of the little ones with their pirate makeup and bandanas.

Ethan enjoyed the warmth and playfulness of his youth counselors, Autumn and Pete, and decided he didn't want to go on an excursion with us one day because he wanted to be with them and the kids in the youth program. Note that parents of all three to five year olds receive pagers in case their little one wants to be picked up early. Parents with special needs children receive pagers too.

Teen program
The six to eight year old group is traditionally the best-attended. Some of the highlights include battle of the sexes, with the girls against the boys; pirate night with the three to five year olds; and an evening of "challenges." During this creative activity time, the youth counselors give kids limited materials, such as foil, straws, and balloons, and ask them to create boats that don't sink, or other similar challenges. This really got the kids thinking out of the box.

One of the favorite activities of the nine to 11 year olds was gagaball, which is like dodge-ball but the ball has to stay on the floor and can only be hit by hand. Another lively activity involved youngsters dancing to disco music and then standing up dominoes quickly when the music stops. This age group also had some scavenger hunts throughout the ship.

Pillow art in our cabin
My daughter Alex was in the 12 to 14 year old teen group. Every evening session began with a treasure hunt, followed by group games or karaoke night. Alex and her newfound friends were pleased that on the last sea day, the rock wall and jump zone were open only to teens.

Fisher-Price Aqua Babies program
Sometimes the teen activities were not the same as those listed in the program. According to Pete Girard, Adventure Ocean manager, the teen counselors have the most flexibility of altering activities listed in the daily Compass, according to the teens' interests.

"It's also very important to have energetic staff members for teens. For that reason, Royal Caribbean has teen specialists on the large ships," he said. "The function of teen staff members is to help the teens break down walls and meet new friends to hang out with." In fact, my daughter did meet lots of other pre-teens through the youth program and subsequently had a great time.

The 15 to 17 year olds have a college game theme night, Fuel dance club discos, and a DJ training session when counselors show them how to use the sound equipment in the teen disco. The Enchantment has a teen disco, but not the extensive teen facilities that the Navigator and Mariner have, such as the Back Deck.

With active, creative activities for children, teens, and their parents, the Enchantment of the Seas is one of our favorites for offering something for everyone.

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