Science at Sea for Kids

| June 7, 2004

Innovations in Princess Cruises' youth program prove that there's always something new under the sun when it comes to activities for kids at sea. On a recent cruise aboard the new Caribbean Princess, my 10-year-old daughter Alex got to dissect a squid, make a shark tooth necklace, and construct a miniature boat. These activities were a result of the line's partnership with the California Science Center, which offers a fleet-wide, hands-on learning program for kids ages 8 to 12 called Science on the Seas. While the rest of the Princess Kids program is fairly good, the science activities were by far the most entertaining and popular activities during our cruise.


The Caribbean Princess is the line's largest ship, carrying 3,100 passengers and dedicated to the Caribbean year round. Because of this, it tends to carry the most children, who are divided into four age groups (vs. three on most other Princess ships). On Caribbean Princess, youngsters are age-grouped as follows: 3 to 6; 7 to 9; 10 to 12; and 13 to 17. The rest of Princess' youth programs group children into ages 3 to 7; 8 to 12; and 13 to 17 years. I have found that the more age groups there are, the better your child will enjoy the youth program, since activities are more age-specific.

Princess Pelican's Kids
Princess Kids is offered year-round on all ships except the Royal, Tahitian and Pacific Princess, which have youth programs only when 20 or more kids are aboard. On our cruise in late April, there were 110 children and teens whereas two weeks earlier, during Easter week, there were almost 500. According to Beto Garcia, youth activities coordinator for Caribbean Princess, the ship has eight permanent counselors, but that number can increase up to 20 during high season. Generally, there is a ratio of one counselor to every 20 children, according to Garcia.

Face Painting
Although counselors do not change diapers of those children who are three years old but not yet potty trained, they do give parents beepers so that their little ones can still participate in the youth program. Parents then get beeped when they need to change their child's diapers. Other than Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines, most lines do not let counselors change diapers, nor allow children who aren't potty-trained to participate in the youth program. Thus Princess' rule of allowing those in diapers to partake in Princess Kids is a plus for parents of hard-to-potty-train kids.

Making coral
Princess Kids is open on sea days from 9 a.m. to noon; 2 to 5 p.m.; and 7 to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., group babysitting is available for those three years and older, which is held in the youth rooms and costs $5 per child. On port days, supervision is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and kids are taken to lunch by the counselors; parents must sign up the day before for this service for three to 12 year olds. Like many other lines, children ages eight years and older are allowed to sign themselves in and out of the youth program as long as they get parental approval at the beginning of the cruise.

A nice bonus for parents is that twice during the cruise, youth counselors take the kids to dinner. FACILITIES

Making New Friends
All Sun and Grand class Princess ships have dedicated youth and teen rooms. Other Princess ships have just a youth room, except for the Royal, Tahitian and Pacific Princess, which don't have any dedicated youth or teen rooms. Youth activities on these ships are held in various lounges, when there are at least 20 children aboard.

The Caribbean Princess' extensive youth and teen facilities measure a whopping 6,383 square feet and include separate rooms for the 3 to 6 year old group; 7 to 9 year olds; 10 to 12 year olds; and a teen room/disco.

Disecting Squid
The 3 to 6 year old room features seven Sony PlayStations, Lego tables, a play house, movie screen, padded play area, and attached outdoor section complete with a splash pool, Little Tykes bikes, and kid-sized basketball hoop. Unlike some other lines, Princess allows those less than three years old to use the 3 to 6 year olds' facilities as long as they are supervised by a parent. My two-and-a-half year old son Ethan enjoyed playing with the blocks and riding the bikes on many occasions. The 7 to 9 year old room also features Sony PlayStations, a plastic jungle gym with slides and tunnels, and movie area, while the 10 to 12 year old room had the same features except for the jungle gym.

The teen room doubles as a young adult disco at night. The room features a very large movie screen, disco floor with appropriate sound system, karaoke machine, Sony PlayStations, jukebox and a bar for "mocktails."

Pottery Lessons
Princess Cruises' private Bahamian beach, Princess Cays, also has excellent facilities for kids. Pelican's Perch is a fenced-in space with an extensive wooden climbing and sliding area, along with a tented sandy spot with lots of pails, shovels, and dump trucks. Pelican's Perch is supposed to be supervised by youth counselors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., although on our cruise, there were a few disgruntled parents because the counselors didn't show up until lunchtime. We took our toddler there and stayed with him while he had a grand time climbing the playground equipment and pushing the trucks around.

Splash Pool
While the facilities for children and young adults participating in the youth program were very good, the ship itself could use a few more family-friendly public rooms. I was surprised that a ship of this size did not have a video/game arcade, which usually is a big draw with older kids and teens. Also, there was no basketball court on deck. However, as long as the sun is shining, the Caribbean Princess has plenty of pools to keep kids happy when the youth program is not in session. There are two large pools, three smaller sized pools (one is adults only), and two splash pools for little ones. One of the splash pools has a small slide, which my son loved. ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES

Splash Pool
The line's partnership with California Science Center, instituted last year, is part of its push for educational yet entertaining activities for children. My daughter Alex and I felt that the Science on the Seas program proved to be both. During our cruise, there were seven different California Science Center activities offered to kids aged eight to 12 years; they ranged from making roller coasters out of tubing and marbles to learning about ocean life, making fake coral, and dissecting a squid. Each activity is introduced by a youth counselor specially trained by the science center and includes a short informational session with the kids on the subject. Then the children construct the project, which ties into the theme being discussed. For example, children learned about centrifugal force and then figured out how to design a fake roller coaster with tubing so that a marble would roll from start to finish.

Pelican's Perch
These seven different Science on the Seas activities were well presented, fun and educational. However, both Alex and I felt that there needed to be more active things for the kids to do other than the Science Center programming. While there were activities for the older kids such as a scavenger hunt, shooting hoops on the kid-sized basketball net, and many visits to the food court for ice cream, there didn't seem to be enough activities or group games to engage children during down time on sea days.

For the three to seven year olds who are too young for the science activities, some of the activities include: making beaded jewelry, face painting, and a pajama party.

Note that on ships cruising in Alaska, there is also a Junior Ranger program for youngsters. Children learn about the Alaskan environment and glaciers from a U.S. Park Ranger while in Glacier Bay.

Hairbraiding on Sapphire Beach
Overall, while counselors were pleasant, most of them did not have the pizzazz or personal touch that we've seen on some other youth programs at sea. On this cruise, my daughter and her friend Kelsey checked out most of the hands-on science activities and just a few of the other activities that sparked their interest. The girls usually preferred to spend the mid-day in the many pools aboard ship. With so many pools, I was always able to find a deck chair in order to watch them.

An enjoyable activity for families is Movies At Sea. The Caribbean Princess is the first Princess ship to have a giant 300-foot screen perched near one of the pools. Although most of these movies – which are shown at night – are for adults, during the cruise there was one family movie. We enjoyed relaxing on the lounge chairs while watching the Wizard of Oz and we were given a bag of popcorn, a blanket, and a goody bag with things such as wands and bubbles in them. This interactive Wizard of Oz featured a live m.c. dressed as Dorothy who appeared on deck at the beginning and end of the movie, and asked us to wave our wands to help get Dorothy home, or blow bubbles whenever the good witch appeared. These gimmicks proved to be good, wholesome family fun. My only wish was that there was more than one family movie during the seven-day cruise.

Dinner Time
Another one of our favorite family activities was our hour-long session at the pottery wheels, part of Princess' [email protected] hands-on learning program. My daughter and I paid $35 each for our time at the wheel and were patiently instructed by Blue, a professional potter. For an extra $15, we chose the favorite pieces we had created, had them fired, and painted them later in the cruise. We found it very relaxing and will always have a visible memory of this shared time together.

Overall, the Caribbean Princess provided a pleasant backdrop for a relaxing family vacation.

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