Cruise ships aren't the only things getting enhanced family-friendly facilities these days. Cruise lines' private islands and beaches have also been on the receiving end recently, with new outdoor water park facilities for kids of all ages. These developments – along with some innovative on-board programming – indicate that cruise lines are taking families seriously.
Read on to find out what's new at the major lines for kids and parents.
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES
This summer, Carnival Liberty will enter the fleet and will also become the line's first ship to sail European waters. The centerpiece for families will be Liberty's 4,200 sq.ft. youth room, which includes a 16-monitor video wall; arts and crafts center; computer lab with educational computer games and Play Station 2 game consoles; a children's library with youth-oriented books and magazines; and a soft play area for little ones. Out on deck is a splash pool for youngsters in addition to the trademark corkscrew slide for older kids.
Teens on the Liberty will have their own club called Without Batteries. This 1,800 sq. ft. club doubles as a hangout spot and a disco, since it's equipped with a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. There is also a large video game room with more than 60 video and arcade games, a library of teen-oriented books and magazines, and individual video game units and computers with popular software.
Meanwhile, Carnival ships continue to develop new activities programs. On the Carnival Valor, two new Camp Carnival activities recently started up: WaterColors and SeaNotes. The former teaches kids techniques employed by professional artists, then gives youngsters the materials they need to create their own masterpieces, ranging from papier- mache to oil paintings. SeaNotes introduces kids to different musical instruments and types of music in an entertaining way. WaterColors is presently operating on about one-fourth of the fleet and will be fleet-wide by the end of the year. SeaNotes is presently on half the fleet and will be on all ships by the time the Liberty goes into service this summer.
All Carnival ships now offer a youth spa program on port days. Pre-teens and teens (ages 12 to 14) and their parents can enjoy body and beauty treatments together at discounted rates. Packages are available in mother/daughter and father/son combinations and range from hair and nail treatments to foot massages.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
The Disney Magic will again adjust its Caribbean itinerary starting in May 2006. The ship will embark on an alternate western Caribbean itinerary every fourth week, calling twice at Castaway Cay and adding a new port of call, Costa Maya, to the existing call at Cozumel. According to Disney, repeat passengers want to explore new ports such as Costa Maya and to have more beach time at Castaway Cay.
Disney Cruise Line is also enhancing its youth programming aboard ship. For the eight to nine year olds, a new activity involves Professor "Saul T. Seez" showing kids what water is made of and what creatures live in it, all in a lively, hands-on approach. Pre-teens (age 10 to 12) can play Culture Shock, a game that teaching them about different cultures and diversity in a fun and interactive way.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
Holland America Line is in the midst of renovating yet another ship with fun youth and teen areas. As part of the line's Signature of Excellence initiative, the Ryndam and Zaandam have already been upgraded to include brighter, larger youth facilities. The kids' room now features a small slide in the shape of a tape dispenser, columns resembling paint brushes, and seats that resemble paint buckets. The renovated ships also have a teens-only hang-out area called the Loft, decorated like a New York artist's loft and connected by a tunnel to a secluded teen deck, The Oasis. Located at the stern of the ship, this private area is a good spot for teens to sunbathe and then cool off in a unique, man-made waterfall and cave.
As the ships get upgraded, their youth program's minimum age is lowered from five to three years. The Rotterdam was being renovated in April, the Statendam was due to follow in May, and eventually all of the fleet – except the newest ships such as Zuiderdam, Osterdam, and Westerdam -- will be refurbished by 2006 to include these family-friendly features. All ships now also feature Club HAL After Hours, also known as group babysitting. This service is available fleet-wide from 10 p.m. to midnight and costs $5 per child per hour.
Another new addition fleet-wide is the line's Family Reunion program, which is turning out to be a big splash among multi-generations. For families booking five or more staterooms on the same departure, the reunion package offers special group pricing, a fountain soda package (allowing every family member unlimited soft drinks), a family photo per stateroom and choice of dinner in the line's alternative restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, or a number of free water sports rentals at Half Moon Cay. Those booking at least 10 cabins at once will get one complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to verandah.
Another part of Signature of Excellence that appeals to families is a new program of optional excursions and water facilities at the line's private Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay. Three excursions are now 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 Aqua Park at Half Moon Cay, completed this winter, is proving to be popular with families. Located in the water just a short swimming distance from the beach, it has a number of water slides, climbing apparatus, water fountains, and replica sea creatures to climb on. For younger kids, there are smaller waterslides on the shoreline that transport children into ankle-deep water.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
Royal Caribbean keeps adding active, inter-generational activities on its ships as well as its private islands. On Labadee, its private Western Caribbean beach, RCI recently opened a pirate-themed water playground called Splash Bash. This land-based water entertainment area features water cannons, spray jets, geysers, toppling water buckets and water archways. While Splash Bash is for both kids and adults, there is a separate play area just for little ones aged three to five. The water activities feature water wheels, water dams and gentler water activity areas. Admission is $5 per person for a two-hour period.
Splash Bash is not to be confused with the existing Aqua Park also located on Labadee. The Aqua Park is a floating playground just offshore with inflatable floating challenges such as balance logs, teeter-totters, rock climbing "icebergs" and water trampolines. There is a special section in shallower water for young children. Guests are charged $15 for 50 minutes of use of the Aqua Park.
In May, Enchantment of the Seas goes into drydock for a new 73-foot midsection which will feature unique bells and whistles for kids of all ages when it re-enters the market in early July. In addition to two new suspension bridges overlooking the pool deck and jutting out over the water, the main pool area will be expanded by about 50 percent with two pools, four whirlpools and a new interactive Splash Deck for kids. The circular Splash Deck will have 64 water jets on the floor, 40 of which are connected to an interactive touchpad system. This allows children to spray each other or create their own fountain effects. At night, this area closes to guests and doubles as a decorative fountain with a fiber-optic light show.
If suspension bridges and water play aren't enough to keep your family entertained at sea, Enchantment's new Sports Deck will feature four bungee trampolines. Passengers can strap into a harness connected to two bungee cords that will help them jump skyward while keeping them safely centered when coming in for a landing. In addition to the line's trademark rock-climbing wall, the Sports Deck will now have two ball zones, each with three basketball hoops of varying heights for kids, teens and adults.
"Y Spa" was recently put into place fleet-wide to provide teens aged 13 to 17 with special spa and beauty treatments just for them. The options range from an "Acne Attack" facial, application of a "Fake Bake" self-tanning cream, and 25-minute mother/daughter or father/son massages.
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