Cruise lines are taking the family cruise market in new and exciting directions these days. From a secluded on-board cave and waterfall for teens to groundbreaking parent/child activities for infants and toddlers, cruise lines are pushing the envelope with their complimentary children's and teens' youth programs. Here are the latest developments in family cruising as of October 2004:
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES
A new program offered by Carnival, ExerSeas, encourages kids to get outside and play. On the big ships, all the youth activities are often inside even though there's usually beautiful scenery, sun and fresh sea air outside. ExerSeas counters that by offering supervised, intense physical games such as capture the flag or obstacle courses played out on deck.
Carnival also has a new hands-on science program called H2Ocean. Youth counselors instruct kids on activities ranging from creating their own helicopters to making their own ice cream.
Also in the educational forum is the new "A-B-Seas" reading program. Youth counselors read popular children's books aloud to parents and kids in the ships' libraries as well as nightly bedtime stories in the children's playrooms. Following the readings, parents and kids get to offer their interpretation of the stories through puppet shows and skits. In addition, budding young authors will enjoy the kids' writing workshops now being offered.
While Carnival has had its EduCruise program in place for a while, it is being expanded to include more interactive projects focusing on the geography, culture and history of destinations visited. For example, children get to create colorful maps of Caribbean countries or make Native American dream-catchers.
Additionally, Carnival is developing a new art program that is more than just arts and crafts. Once it is in place, kids will be able to create their own masterpieces using watercolors, papier-mache or oil paints, learning techniques used by real artists.
A new fleet-wide offering is the Youth Spa Program, aimed at pre-teens and teens ages 12 to 14. These youngsters can have a body or beauty treatment with their parents on port days at discounted rates. Packages are available in mother/daughter and father/son combinations.
Recently, Carnival also expanded its dining options so that in addition to the children's menu, a daily junior special is offered too. The new menus are on the back of a coloring/activity book, and crayons are provided by waiters. Children can also now opt to eat with youth counselors on most nights in the Lido buffet area, which has some kid favorites like hamburgers or spaghetti and meatballs.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
The Disney Wonder is putting the finishing touches on its new teen area, called Aloft. Similar to the Disney Magic, the ship's forward faux funnel has been redesigned and now hosts two teens-only areas. One section of Aloft is for younger teens, and the other is for older ones.
The Disney Magic recently started an adventurous sail-away party called "Pirates in the Caribbean." All guests receive bandanas, Captain Hook is in attendance, and stunt performers add to the excitement by rappelling down the funnel!
Other new programming aboard Disney Magic is The Golden Mickeys musical stage show as well as The Golden Mickeys Backstage Pass After-Parties. Following the show, the Disney Magic holds two different parties – one for families and one for adults only. The family one is at Studio Sea, where guests of all ages can enjoy dancing, singing-along to live music, and special performances by parents.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
Some of this investment is going toward the line's youth program, Club HAL, and also its teen facilities. Previously, Club HAL had been for children five years and older. Over the next year and a half, the minimum age required for youth program participation will be lowered to three. (Children must also be fully potty trained.) The drop in minimum age will coincide with the completion of new teen rooms and age-specific children's rooms.
The Ryndam is the first ship to feature the new youth and teen facilities as well as the lowered minimum age for participation. The upgrade schedule for the rest of the fleet is as follows: Zaandam, January 2005; Rotterdam, April, 2005; Statendam, May, 2005; Amsterdam, October, 2005; Volendam, December, 2005; Veendam, January 2006; and Maasdam, April, 2006. The newer ships in the fleet – Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, and Westerdam – have spacious existing youth rooms so no immediate plans are set for renovation. The smaller Prinsendam will not be adding youth facilities.
The youth rooms for three- to seven-year-olds will be very colorful with paint brushes serving as pillars, tape dispenser-styled slides, and a big-screen television. The area for youngsters aged eight to 12 will feature arcade games, air hockey, Karaoke, Internet access and Sony Playstations. Through a partnership with Cranium, HAL will expand its board game offerings too.
Teens will see two very neat additions called The Loft and The Oasis. The Loft is a lounge area designed to resemble a New York City artist's loft. It has a special passageway to a secluded teen deck called The Oasis. In addition to lounge chairs, The Oasis features a waterfall and cave-like structure for cooling off. New teen activities will be featured inside and out, ranging from Luau at the Oasis to Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) contests.
A number of family activities will be added, too, such as Cranium Family Game Time and Family Olympics. For the first time, HAL will offer late-evening group babysitting called Club HAL After Hours. The service will be offered in the youth rooms from 10 p.m. to midnight for a fee of $5 per child per hour.
Other Signature of Excellence enhancements that will appeal to families are new optional excursions and water facilities at the line's private Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay. Three excursions are now being offered, including swimming and touching sting rays in Sting Ray Cove; horseback riding and swimming with the horses; and AquaTrax (similar to jet skis) guided water tours. While AquaTrax is only for those with a driver's license, horseback riding is for those over six years; there is no minimum age for Sting Ray Cove.
The finishing touches are also being put on a family aqua park at Half Moon Cay that is located in the water, just a short swimming distance from the beach. It will have a number of water slides, 21 climbing structures, water fountains, and replica sea creatures to climb on. From the nearby boardwalk area, a bar with a slide leads out towards the aqua park.
During the movie, cruise staffers dressed as Dorothy, Scarecrow, and other Oz characters lead the audience through singing along with Dorothy, hissing at the Wicked Witch, or blowing bubbles to help Glinda the good witch on her way. Families are given a "Perform-A-Long Fun Pack" with props to use during the film, including bubbles, wands and noisemakers. You can make reservations for this fun activity through the concierge once on board ship.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
My son just turned three years old, has been on five cruises, and has yet to participate in any youth activities due to his age. Thus, from firsthand experience, I welcome such age specific activities to do together while on board. I know I'm not alone; I feel that through this new programming, Royal Caribbean will reach a big, untapped area of families and will broaden the family cruise market even more.
Developed at Fisher-Price's Play Laboratory, Royal Caribbean's daily, 45-minute playgroups offer age-appropriate activities that combine skill-building with storytelling, creative arts, music, and Fisher-Price toys and games. AquaBabies targets little ones, ages six to 18 months, with six themed sessions. For example, "Get Up & Go" promotes physical activities by using Fisher-Price toys like the Stride-to-Ride Walker ™ while other sessions focus on exploring rhythm and movement through music. AquaTots, for toddlers aged 18 months to three years, uses Little People R characters and the Animal Sounds Farm ™ to help teach kids about animals. Other activities include "Learning Fundamentals," which teaches ABCs and 123s through singing and movement. AquaBabies and AquaTots programs debut on Explorer of the Seas this month and will be available fleet-wide by the end of March 2005. Parents who participate in the programs will receive a special newsletter explaining the session's themes and objectives.
As part of this partnership, "Fisher-Price TV" will be extended to in-cabin viewing and will feature the Little People R video series, among others. There have been many times (such as when everyone's getting ready for formal night) when it would have been helpful to have a video appropriate for my toddler to watch in cabin. Instead, we usually carry our portable DVD player to occupy him during those times.
In other family cruising news, Sovereign of the Seas will be the third Royal Caribbean ship to undergo extensive renovations (others recently refurbished include Monarch of the Seas and Empress of the Seas). By the end of November, Sovereign will have three teens-only areas including Fuel nightclub; The Back Deck, a sun deck with an outdoor dance floor; and a hangout called The Living Room.
If you're thinking of taking your children on a European cruise, Royal Caribbean recently enhanced its programs to bring a more European feel on board. Many destination-oriented activities are appropriate for families, like creating a mask for a Venetian masquerade ball, watching pizza tossing (and tasting the finished product), or learning the "syrtos," or Greek circle dance. Last fall, my 10-year-old daughter and I went on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean. We had a fabulous cruise, but since it was September, there weren't many other children. These new activities would have been perfect for us to do together to get into the spirit of Italy or Greece.