"Cruise lines have gone to great lengths to ensure that ships are family-friendly, making cruise ships popular venues for family reunions and multi-generational vacations," said Bob Sharak, CLIA's executive director.
Indeed, cruise lines continue to put time, effort and money into their family-friendly facilities as well as their youth and teen activities programs, and these new statistics show that it is paying off for them. However, cruise lines aren't the only ones reaping the benefits: You as a parent have more options than ever in choosing the right family cruise.
With all this rapid growth, there are once again many new developments in the areas of programming, discounts for kids and family friendly facilities. The following report covers the latest developments in family cruising as of May 2003.
Carnival Cruise Lines is making waves with its new Teen Shore Tours, which will be offered fleet-wide by the end of the summer. Besides providing discounts of up to 20 percent off the adult price, the teen shore excursions are chosen by the teens as a group and are accompanied by a youth counselor. Sample teen excursions include Mayan Horseback Riding in Cozumel, America's Cup Regatta in St. Maarten, and Cave Tubing & Rainforest Tour in Belize.
The are a number of new additions to the youth programs at Royal Caribbean International. According to Charly McDonald, Adventure Ocean Specialist, each ship's youth room now has a library of books that children can check out during their cruise. They range from Harry Potter favorites to "edutainment" books related to the travel destinations.
Royal Caribbean recently expanded its Sail Into Storytime, originally just for the three to five year old group, to include six to eight year olds too. This program features a youth counselor reading an age appropriate book out loud to the children and then building a curriculum of fun activities related to the book's theme. According to McDonald, books for the older group are "more fun and silly than some of the classic books" read to the younger set. While the program is also available to pre-schoolers in Spanish, it has not yet been implemented in Spanish to the grade-schoolers.
Disney Cruise Line is marking its fifth anniversary this summer with an enhanced youth and family program. Among the recent additions: themed activity times in the youth rooms where adults can accompany their children and do a variety of projects and crafts together; basic arts and crafts activities for toddlers in Flounder's Reef Nursery; When You Wish Upon A Star Summer, which features a new fireworks show on select summer cruises; and Golden Mickeys, a new live stage show and event like the Academy Awards, set to debut in August.
Crystal Cruises is featuring a unique program on its Alaska cruises this summer: Etiquette Training for Juniors. According to Crystal, by the end of the 12-day cruise, youngsters will be able to navigate themselves through a six-course dinner, learn to ballroom dance, and speak well in public. Under the guidance of the Gollatz Cotillion, a venerable 71-year-old-California etiquette training school, children will learn poise and social graces through games, dance nights and prizes.
Cunard Line's QE2 will sail her last US-marketed transatlantic season this year, and her annual summer family cruise is one you won't want to miss. The featured entertainers are The Muppets and the film/cartoon animator Peter Lord, known for "Chicken Run."
A number of family discounts are available this summer and winter.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises lets one child in the same cabin as two paying adults sail for free on the Radisson Diamond through July 26. Children must be under 18. The ship sails seven-day Caribbean itineraries between San Juan and Ft. Lauderdale. (Note that the ship has triple cabins but does not have quads.)
Metropolitan Touring specializes in small ships that cruise the exotic Galapagos Islands. Once again this summer, the line is offering a number of family cruises during which children under 17 can sail for 50% less if accompanied by one paying adult. The family cruises are offered on the 90-passenger Santa Cruz June 23 and July 28; three/four/seven-day segments are available. The 40-passenger Isabela II features seven-day family cruises on July 1 and 15. There is a family coordinator and naturalist on board to oversee youth activities on land and at sea, as well as children's menus and early dinners. Metropolitan Touring requests that children be at least seven years old to sail.
RiverBarge Excursion Lines lets kids under 12 sail free year round when staying in the same cabin as two paying adults. Teens between 13 and 18 are half price when staying in their own cabin. While there are not any organized youth activities, RiverBarge does offer many family fun activities such as ice cream socials, board games, and talent shows. The line offers four to 10-day cruises on waterways in the southern and midwestern USA.
While Costa Cruises offers free balconies on its winter Caribbean sailings of the CostaMediterranea or CostaAtlantica to all passengers, this deal may be of particular interest to families with little ones. I find that when we cruise with our toddler, who naps for a few hours each afternoon, a verandah is a must. While my son is napping, my husband or I can sit out on the balcony and enjoy the beautiful weather rather than being stuck in a dark room all afternoon. Guests purchasing a category 4 or 5 outside stateroom between November 2003 and April 2004 will be upgraded to a balcony stateroom category 6 or 7, respectively, for free. Costa ships feature a year-round youth program with international flair.
For additional summer discounts for children, read last month's article "Seasonal Kids' Programs" for details on price cuts for families aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, CruiseWest, Crystal Cruises, and Delta Queen Steamboat Co.
FAMILY FRIENDLY FACILITIES
Carnival Cruise Lines' 2,974-passenger Carnival Glory, which sets sail in July from Port Canaveral, has been designed with families in mind. The youth room measures a spacious 4,200 square feet and has four distinctive areas -- an arts and crafts center with spin and sand art and candy making machines; a video room with a 16-monitor wall for movies; a computer lab featuring educational computer games and PlayStation 2 consoles; and a children's library with books and magazines.
The Carnival Glory's combined game and teen dance club, Ultraviolets, has state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, a video wall, dance floor, "mocktail" lounge, video and computer games, and a teen library.
Additionally, the Carnival Glory rents GameBoy Advance hand-held video game units as well as strollers by the day or week. Like all Carnival ships, there is a 214-foot long water slide and four pools, including a children's wading pool.
Royal Caribbean International has many new developments in the area of family-friendly facilities. Royal Caribbean's rock climbing walls have proved to be big hits with families and by year's end, all older ships will have a rock wall retrofitted. All new builds will feature a wall too. The Monarch of the Seas is presently being refurbished with a rock wall along with many other amenities.
Of the $26 million worth of improvements to Monarch, 10 percent (about $2.5 million) are being dedicated to Adventure Ocean youth and teen facilities. According to McDonald, the Monarch will sport a smaller version of the expansive teen facilities now on the Navigator of the Seas. Like Navigator, there will be four separate areas just for teens including: Fuel, which is a teen night club; Club Café, an internet station just for teens; The Living Room, with its Starbucks atmosphere; and The Back Deck outside space dedicated to young adults. The Monarch will also feature one larger space for the children's program, which have three separate rooms for each age level.
"If these new teen and youth facilities are successful, we will look to do the same on other older ships," said McDonald.
The Navigator -- which boasts the largest combined youth and teen facilities at sea -- just instituted a Room Host concept for the teen program. McDonald said there will be a teen counselor at Fuel teen club who will take more requests from the teens in order to better meet their needs. The Navigator, a Voyager class ship, often carries 500 or 600 teens per cruise vs. 200 to 300 on the smaller Radiance class vessels.
Lastly, families on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity itineraries calling at CocoCay in the Bahamas can now play together at a 20,000-square-foot aqua adventure park, Caylana's Castle Cove. Located just off the beach, the water park features two 14-foot castles with one side for climbing and the other for sliding; two 25-foot floating trampolines; several "slidewalks" and aqua logs; and water teeter-totters. The separate children's section has similar equipment but on a smaller scale. Adults pay $15 and children under 12 pay $10 for 50 minutes in the aqua park, which is monitored by lifeguards.
Disney Cruise Line has added Animal Kingdom Lodge to its list of Disney hotels and resorts that offer the Disney Cruise Line Land & Sea Vacation packages. Like all the six other Disney hotels on the Land & Sea Vacation package list, guests put luggage outside their door the night prior to the cruise, and it is delivered to the ship the next day. Guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge can enjoy complimentary admission to the park the morning of their cruise and can depart mid-day via motorcoach from the park's entrance to Port Canaveral where they board their Disney ship.